I can’t tell you the exact moment I developed an intense dislike of flying.
It should have been the time I was standing, stretching my legs in the aisle, when we hit unexpected turbulence and my head hit the roof, but it wasn’t then.
There was no defining moment. It just developed over time, perhaps as I took an interest in my own mortality and came to realise that I wasn’t bulletproof.
And as planes got bigger, so too did my fear. So much metal, fuel, luggage and bodyweight isn’t meant to fly. A little birdy? Yes. A single person in a hang-glider? Fine. But 400,000kg of mass? No way.
Now, I know I’m in a minority. One in four people has an anxiety about flying and one in 10 is actually terrified.
And I know I have no statistical reason to fear flying. The US National Safety Council actually says that flying on a commercial airliner is the safest form of transport possible.
Various research tells me that the chances of my plane crashing are somewhere between one in 5.4 million and one in 11 million, while other experts say that fatal accidents occur once every two million flights.
Yes, I’m more likely to get hit by lightning or eaten by a shark.
So, do I go out in thunderstorms or venture into shark-infested waters? No.
And does it comfort me to know that most accidents are caused by pilot error, not something mechanical? No, it doesn’t. Not in the slightest.
Nor am I comforted by the research from the US National Transport Safety Board, which estimates that there’s a 95 per cent chance of surviving “an air accident”.
How it defines an “air accident” is unclear, but I’m betting it doesn’t limit itself to falling out of the sky from 30,000 feet.
So, apart from a nagging wife with a hunger for travel, what gets me into a plane?
Alcohol and drugs.
Yes, I’ll drink before I fly and I’ll pop a sleeping tablet or two while waiting in the departure lounge.
I once flew with my dog from Perth to Melbourne. My vet suggested I give the dog a sleeping pill, which I did. I’m not sure when he fell asleep, but he came through the security door in Melbourne unconscious and remained that way until we hit the CBD. “That’s my idea of air travel,” I decided.
As for the best sleeping tablet, I’m not going to recommend one here. That would be irresponsible. Ask your doctor or pharmacist, and don’t let them talk you into “herbal alternatives”. I did, once, and stayed awake throughout an entire screening of The English Patient.
Pillows and masks don’t alleviate nervous tension, but noise-cancelling headphones are good things, provided you’re prepared to take out a second mortgage to buy a pair. If you’re not paying around $400, they’re probably not going to do the job.
And they don’t cancel out those things that happen to your stomach when the plane suddenly drops or rises.
The other thing I’d recommend is to fly with your own flight crew member. I have one. She’s my daughter-in-law and she works on international flights. I try to take her everywhere I fly because she has no fear and this results in, by my research, a 23 per cent reduction in my nervous tension.
She has suggested I read articles about flying, and with this in mind I read How safe is commercial flight? It tells me I’m more likely to die from walking, cycling, swimming or going to work, so I’ve told my wife I’m never getting off the couch again.
I also came upon Conquer your fear of flying, which is very heavily slanted towards American statistics and doesn’t include reference to TWA, the former US airline company that told everyone it stood for Trans World Airlines, but everybody else knew stood for Try Walking Across.
Are you a confident flyer? If not, have you been able to ease your anxiety?
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