A month ago I went on holiday to the Canary Islands. Now that involved getting on an aircraft, something that I’m quite reluctant to do, but it has to be done.
It was my first foreign holiday for 8 years and so the apprehension about the fates due to unfold, began a few days before I left for the departure airport. Airports are strange places. Lots of people milling about and in some cases, totally bored of waiting to get on that long metal tube.
Lots of things worry me about flying. First of all, the safety demonstration. They don’t tell you what could wrong with the plane when you buy the ticket, but the airline waits until you’re strapped in about to thunder down a long, asphalted runway at 150 mph, to tell you what could go wrong.
Now, the roar of the engines are quite something, nothing compared to the roar of my stomach as the plane takes off. Then it’s the ascent. Ok, the ascent only takes a few minutes, but the roller coaster effect seems never ending. I shut my eyes and grip the seat tightly as we climb at 300 mph!
Once the thing is airborne and cruising, then my fears and alarms recede somewhat. Until turbulence arrives. Now, turbulence doesn’t do any damage to anything, but that doesn’t stop the nerves going as judder follows shake follows judder. Again, it’s only a short time, but it seems like forever.
Of course, there’s the airline selling you food and drink, duty free perfumes and cigarettes and lottery scratch cards. Flying is a bloody lottery I can tell you. But I had some books, a newspaper and a crossword puzzle book to keep my mind occupied and to stop focussing on the possible fears.
And that’s what they are. Fears. Irrational ones. Flying is the safest form of transportation, statistically. Safer than crossing the road, driving a car or riding a bike. But that doesn’t stop the brain sending you into a frenzy. You just want to get off. But I paid for this holiday and I’m going to get to my destination, whatever.
I’m reassured by the fact that millions of journeys are undertaken every year without mishap. And I love the clipped tones and calmness of the pilots. That is one job I wouldn’t do. I don’t know how they keep so calm and focussed on flying a several thousand tonnes machine with cargo and 240 people on board. Amazing skill.
But then it’s time to come into land. The plane descends, through the thick cloud which exacerbates the turbulence. And then you see the runway. At a thousand miles an hour. The pilot obviously had a pressing engagement this particular lunchtime. Down it came. BANG! BANG! Jolted forward in my seat and the plane still careering down the runway at a fair old speed.
But down it came and I was safe. The only trouble was, when I reached my hotel room, I drifted into a light sleep where I was dreaming of getting on and off the plane. My balance was shot to bits, but I was on terra ferma and the only place I was going to fall was off the bed, on the floor.
With my history of anxiety and depression, it was a big undertaking to get on and off planes. That’s sixteen journeys I’ve done, with four hours to and from my destination the longest I’ve spent in a metal tube with wings. So I can overcome anxiety, until something comes along to give me more anxiety, like seeing my doctor or doing a presentation in front of 20 people. Up in the air or feet on the ground, it don’t matter; anxiety still rules my life.
Come fly with me? Not often!