I maintain a fear of flying is normal and anyone who claims to enjoy it is lying. Virgin’s choc-ices aren’t that great. Aerodynamics isn’t that fascinating. I mean, please: sitting up in a truly weighty metal tube thousands of feet up in the sky being driven by someone you’ve never met? Jesus.
The irony is, from the age of 16 to 21, I lived in Chard, a small town in Somerset which happens to be the birthplace of powered flight after inventor, John Stringfellow, flew a model plane in a disused lace mill in 1848. Whoopydoo, Icarus, because having lived there, I can safely say that Chard is crap and ugly and nothing good came of it. Not even planes.
I haven’t always been afraid of flying. As a child, sure. I would hysterically sniff Chanel no 5 from a hankie for entire flights. But as a teenager, I was fine. So fine in fact that in my early twenties, when I lived in Italy, I virtually commuted from London to Turin on a monthly basis. Then, 9/11 happened (see above), I went to Morocco, and, like a nostalgic dormant STD, my fear re-found me
My symptoms are similar to those experienced during a panic attack. Heavy heart thumping, fast, hard, tight breathing, a dry mouth and a general sense of impending doom during which I whine like a small dog. Suffice to say; I know my fears are illogical. It’s not the claustrophobia, the vertigo (two very real fears which make sense), which scares me. It’s not even the lack of control – I’m a trusting person. It’s the FEAR that I fear. A mid-air explosion? What can you do? One engine failing when three will more than efficiently get us to B and then being told this? Fuck Me.
My fear pans out fivefold. Firstly, for around 48 hours before departure. To wit: I recently fainted in Clarins and sicked up some French toast out of pure terror. Then, en plane, as we journey from the slow runway to the fast runway. Then, as we begin our super fast runway bit (the WORST), followed by takeoff and finally throughout turbulence, a vile, vile thing, which usually makes me cry.
Naturally I turned to Dr Alan Carr, a man who really gave it his all in helping me overcome my fear, and who rather romantically calls turbulence ‘the potholes of the skies.’ (I try to remind myself but more often forget).
Alan wrote a very good book – much better than the smoking one – about flying. He aims to make you not only NOT fear flying, but actually enjoy it. A little optimistic, Alan, but still, there are some great facts (and I paraphrase): ‘there are half a million planes in the sky at any one time and none of them have crashed to earth’, and, some woefully ineffective ones: ‘Lockerbie was a one-off’.
Got you there, Alan! Because it wasn’t, was it? We all saw The Towers! We all remember Richard and his shoes! We’ve all seen United 93 – and it must be a trend if they made it into a film, right? Why else do we have to decanter our toothpaste in Departures? Because somewhere, out there, loads of people want to blow up planes. And for any number of causes! The EDL (swathes of Europe), The Fundamentalists (everywhere else) and narcissists (all of us). Everyone.
So, you ask, why fly? The problem is I have to fly a bit for work. Generally to cool stuff – interviews, press trips – but still, I have to go. And trains are apparently too Medieval for journalists. Quite frankly, I find this ludicrous but whatever. I remember going on a press trip to a six star hotel in Croatia last October. The kind PR put us up in the business suite of Radisson Blue (no ‘e’) with wide views of Stansted airport. Wicked, I thought, and slept for about 23 minutes.
And yet, it’s never stopped me. I’ve tried to remedy it: pre-flight acupuncture (no); ear beads inserted to treat anxiety (nope) and hypnotherapy (which helped for, like, a minute).
How do I cope? Valium, primarily. I’m now on repeat prescription, which is great. 1 x glass on wine + 1 x 5mg pill = a blissful disinterest in either living or dying. During the flight, equally, I sustain myself on cockpit communication. El Capitaine can discuss anything: crap, mountains, wee, marital problems, so long as he sounds calm. I also stare at the air stewardesses, searching for signs of content. They smile, I smile. They laugh, I laugh. If they look worried I deem that a pretty serious breach of trust. Sometimes they see me looking at them, unblinking, over the blue lights flickering from the sleeping screens at 3am. It’s pretty awkward but I don’t care. That said, I hate the young ones. They lack life experience. If shit literally went down they would suck.
I plan to take a Fear of Flying course. Chances are it won’t work. But anyway, I’m off to Berlin next week. By plane.
(A disclaimer: I’m actually brilliant at flying when I’m by myself. If there’s no one to listen to my fears, those fears, unobserved, cease to exist. But otherwise I’m truly shit at it.)
By Morwenna Ferrier Features Editor at Grazia
If you enjoyed this, have a little peek at Amber Jane Butchart’s fantastic piece on Amelia Earhart and how she still navigates the catwalk