I am frightened of flying, but I still fly. To address my fear of flying I took a one-day fear of flying course offered by Virgin Airways at Gatwick Airport when I was living in London ten years ago. I was pleased to find that when I arrived at the course the room was full. I was not alone. The course was led by a retired captain, psychologist, and a current head purser for the airlines. The head pursuer opened the workshop by asking the people in the room: “When the plane gets ready to take off and the crew sit in their seats with their safety belts on, are you looking at the crew?
The room murmured and we all nodded in agreement. He continued: “If you were looking at me and I made this face, what would you think?” His eyes grew wide, his mouth hung open as he looked in horror at the room.”
“The plane is going to crash!” yelled a woman sitting at the front of the room.
“Yes, yes,” murmured the rest of us.
“Wrong!” Yelled the purser.
“I am reacting to the fact that they forgot to put the chicken meals on the plane, and we only have pasta!”
The audience laughed. But the comment did not cure our fear, it just confirmed that we were very anxious on a plane. As the workshop proceeded, I realized that there was no cure: the objective was to learn how to live with the fear.
My fear seemed to have always been there, I can’t place the fear on one incident. My father was a RAF pilot during World War II and had explained numerous times the simplicity of how planes fly. His explanation made sense, but at a gut level I just couldn’t really understand how so much weight can go into the air.
During the workshop, the mechanics of flying and what happens to a plane in the air were discussed in detail. The roots of not being in control and claustrophobia were examined by the psychologist. However, it was the finale of the day that was the test to see if the workshop was successful. We were shuffled onto two large aircraft that were going to circle Gatwick Airport. As we boarded, three people turned around at the door to the aircraft and pushed their way against the crowd to avoid getting onto the plane. Pursued by staff attempting to calm them was unsuccessful. The situation was tense as we boarded. We took our seats and fastened our seat belts tightly. Air hostesses were positioned throughout the center aisles and remained standing in the aisle during take-off, to enable them to calm the passengers and answer questions. The doors shut. Suddenly the man next to me, a sweet person, who had never been on vacation because of his fear of flying, climbed over me, pushed the chatty air hostess out of the way and attempted to open the door.
“Let me out, let me out!” he screamed. Needless to say, that triggered others. Two other people jumped out of their seats and joined him. At this point, I was defiantly thinking that my fear was not as bad as some of the people around me. The door opened and the three panicked people were let out of the aircraft.
We finally took off.
My worse flying moment is when the plane gets to the cruising height and levels. The sound of the roar softens, and I’m convinced they have turned the engines off. To my relief, I learned that is not the case. We flew around the airport in circles three times. Up and down with the pilot narrating what was happening. “Turbulence is just waves in the air,” he explained. “Waves just like the ocean.” That comment stayed with me over the years. However, on my recent flight, I was convinced that “waves in the air” was a lot of psychological bullshit created to keep the high-strung, neurotic fear-of-flying passengers calm.
Peter could now work virtually, therefore we went in search of warmer weather and left Berlin for Croatia.
Because of my fear of flying, which had improved due to the workshop, but is still there, I have things I can’t and can do when I fly. One is I will only fly major airlines. I cannot get on a bucket shop airlines aircraft. Therefore, my husband flew Easy Jet from Berlin to Split. I flew Lufthansa via Munich as they do not have direct flights from Berlin.
I still battle internally with my fear and work hard at staying calm. Deep breathing during take-off and when there are ‘waves’. The aircraft to Split was small. I prefer big. I took my seat and said to myself, ‘Quiet Jill, quiet mind’. I looked around at the passengers. Looking for characters who might misbehave. I repeated, “Just breathe Jill, just breathe. Only the pilot flying the plane.”
The captain’s voice was calming. Thank God. I need a mature calming voice; I hate when they sound too young. The last Lufthansa flight I flew the captain said he had a student with him who was landing the plane. The plane landed like a ping-pong ball. Hopefully, this will be calmer.
The plane took off. I hate take-off. It was raining and there were thick storm clouds hanging over Munich. The plane bounced and bounced. It felt like we were rolling from side to side. I felt like a sardine in a can, trapped and thrown into the air. This was the worst flight I have ever taken. Bullshit waves in the air! The flight was one hour. The bouncing calmed for about 10 minutes and the air hostess ran up and down the aisle giving the passengers a piece of chocolate. I could not accept. I was far too petrified. I clung to the side of the seat. My knuckles were white. The woman next to me kept saying ‘Uppa’ every time we hit a bump and the plane lurched up and down. For her, it was a fun roller coaster ride. I hated her. Black storm clouds hung over Split and we bounced into the airport. Never again, I’m taking trains in the future.
The plane parked where it landed, and stairs were driven out to the aircraft. We were informed that we would exit here and walk across the runway to the arrivals terminal. When I realized that I was standing on the runway, I instinctively looked left and right to see if there were any planes coming before I crossed to the building.
It was mid-April and the remains of winter lingered. Peter was waiting for me inside the terminal. His nonstop flight had arrived a few hours earlier.
“Why didn’t you tell me how bad the weather was up there and how rough the flight was?” I growled.
“Because you would not have got on the aircraft if I had told you. Remember it’s just waves in the air.”
“What a lot of crap they feed you in those workshops.” I groaned and walked with him to the car rental office.
I finally started to calm down and breathe deeper. The car rental attendants were speaking together in Croatian, a Slavic language that does not have the familiar words shared by the southern European languages. It is harsh and guttural and I was grateful for the English they spoke. We rented a Volkswagen. A car with keys. But unfortunately, no navigation.
“Jill, navigate please?” asked Peter after we had settled into the car.
I turned my phone on and found the Airbnb in Split on the map. I could not get the sound to work and therefore had to narrate the directions. The freeway from the airport was one straight road with no instructions needed. But once in town I stated: “Turn right on Hrvatske Mornarice.”
“What?” yells Peter as he circled around the roundabout for the second time.
“Too many consonants. I have no idea how to pronounce this.”
One more time around the roundabout.
“Left on Domovinskog Rata. Which I think might be that street.”
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“No Peter, I’m not sure. It just looks like what the map is telling me. And now left on Blaza Trogiranina.” I spat the word out and added a guttural sound in an effort to copy the native speakers at the rental office. We both looked at each other and burst out laughing.