I never knew I had a fear of flying until I got married!
I used to love going to the airport as a kid to watch aircraft take off and land, but I never had the urge to visit other countries, and as a result never really wanted to travel by aeroplane. I guess the reason was because I was brought up in a single parent family and we were considered poor. Putting food on the table was challenging enough for my mum so holidays even in the UK were never going to happen. That didn’t bother me as I still had a pretty good childhood!
I think coming from a poor background made me more determined than some of my more affluent friends to do well and succeed, and I did. I quickly developed a career in I.T., became an administrator, and then subsequently an I.T. manager for a large corporate with a division involved in the aerospace industry. I had the best of both worlds as I was working in a great career, worked with very skilled aviation professionals, and from time to time even got to visit aircraft production lines.
I still hadn’t flown on an aeroplane though!
In 1999 I was married. My new wife was a regular holiday maker and liked to have at least one trip abroad to the sun each year, and it was clear after a couple of years of static caravan holidays in the UK that she was itching to go abroad. That was when I first realised I had an issue with flying.
She discussed planning a trip abroad and for some reason I just felt anxiety – completely irrational anxiety; there was no reason for it whatsoever. I just made up excuses and suggested we do another static caravan holiday. Thankfully she relented.
There are only so many times you can make up excuses though!
Things came to a head the next year and I had to be honest and admit I’d developed this ridiculous fear of flying. It was totally irrational because I’d never been on an aeroplane, and had never suffered either directly or indirectly as the result of an aviation related incident. My wife suggested going on a fear of flying course.
Although I worked in I.T., the World Wide Web wasn’t as advanced as it is today, and search engine technology was still developing but somehow I found a company offering “fear of flying training” with occasional courses being based out of my local airport. My wife contacted the company and before I knew it I was booked on a course.
To cut a long story short, within a few weeks I was in a conference room at the airport with a couple of dozen other people who were clearly there for the same reason as me. A very nice chap began an introduction to the course and discussed the psychology behind fear etc. He then told us that we would learn about the safety aspects, listen to a talk from an airline captain and that the course would culminate in a one hour flight in a commercial airliner.
An hour in and we are being taught how to relax and are bonding with the people next to us; all very strange to me. The airline captain was very charismatic and discussed flying safety statistics and gave us some brief details on the redundancy in aircraft systems and how safe things really are – I knew a lot of this as I’d done my research and after all, I worked for a company supplying to the aviation industry.
After the talk was completed, there was a brief question and answers session and then we were all asked to make our way to one of the airport departure gates where we were going to embark on a one hour “pleasure flight”. At the gate was parked a British Airways Boeing 737-200 series aircraft, also (not so affectionately) termed the Jurassic . By that time most passenger Boeing 737 operators were flying the “Classic” and some had even started flying the brand new NG series. As a lot of the guys at the office where I worked knew I was going on this course, they joked and wound me up a little, and I remember one comment from an engineer contractor saying “Don’t get on a 737-200”. That stark comment echoed in my mind as I walked up the aircraft steps – irrationally of course.
I was sat in the second to last row of the aircraft with a pleasant chap I’d been talking to during the course. He was a little apprehensive as I was, and I remember us both saying “I’d be quite happy to get off now before the doors close”. Sadly, I remember seeing a woman in tears up at the front who had to get off; she clearly couldn’t go through with it. The doors closed so it was too late for us to complain and ask to be let off.
We lined up and the engines spooled up to take off power. The noise was very loud and that old aircraft interior rattled like crazy – I could understand why it wasn’t used for the daily passenger flights.
The flight was a short one hour trip out to the west around the Isle of Man and then back.
Once in the cruise and two by two, we were allowed to visit the flight deck and have a brief word with the flight crew (prior to the September 11 attacks when things like that were allowed). The crew were clearly busy on this short flight but they were courteous.
The flight was uneventful and didn’t feel unnatural, or give me any strange fear or anxiety even though I’d been apprehensive prior to getting onboard, and I quite remember enjoying the approach and landing but once the doors were open and we were disembarking, I remember a feeling of complete relief and saying the chap who was sat next to me “Well I’ve done it, I’ve been on an aeroplane, but that’s it, I will never do it again”. He agreed and said he had ticked the box too and wouldn’t do it again.
We were lead back into the terminal to an area where friends and family were allowed to wait for us to arrive. I remember seeing my wife and some family members and I could see her smiling and doing the thumbs up thing in the hope that I would respond the same as I was “cured”! The look on her face when my response was a big thumbs down with an exaggerated shake of the head showing my negativity was something etched into my memory haha!
She wasn’t going to give up though… A few days later we were chatting at home and her suggestion out of the blue was “Why don’t you learn to fly”??
I mulled it over for a few seconds, brushed it off as insane, but a few weeks later I was booked on a trial flying lesson at a local grass airfield…. To be continued…