"I'm not frightened of flying daddy" are the words I love to hear from my 6 year old daughters' lips, so the last thing I want to do is push my fear of flying onto her.
I didn't fly until my mid 20's as living in Kent, my father drove us to holidays, usually in the south of France. But when I met my wife who's from sunny Yorkshire, we have to take at least one flight a year to Spain! I love actually being there so much I go through the fear of a 2½ hour flight, my anxiety levels are running at 110%, so I usually try and numb my senses with prescribed Diazepam or plenty of on flight beverages. Let's face it, when I arrive at my destination I'm a complete useless wreck!
The problem was that I wasn't getting to the core of my fears but just masking them with suppressants. I'd heard of the Virgin 'flying without fear' course before, but being a sceptical person I'd always thought what's the point, that won't work? But here I am in my mid 30's feeling exactly the same ...enough was enough!
I arrived at the course at Gatwick in good time, in fact I was an hour early, so I had plenty of time to worry about what to expect. After I had checked in and got my name badge we were shown by the very friendly cabin crew and team leaders where to get refreshments and shown to our tables of ten people. I was surprised to see the sheer amount of frightened fliers (there were about 180+), not just first timers, but people whom had a bad flight experience.
The course was founded in 1997 by Paul Tizzard whom has a humorous yet logical approach but wouldn't be out of place on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow! Ex cabin crew Paul has a background in Training and Development, running his own consultancy. He runs the course with joint director Richard Conway who's background is business and is passionate about the course being a former frightened flier himself.
We started, after the intro from Paul and Richard on how the day was going to work by discussing with the team leaders on our table, by introducing ourselves and seeing what other peoples fears were. These questions were then pooled together and given to the speakers so they know what to cover during the course.
We then went on with a very interesting talk and slide show from one of the Virgin Atlantic Captains whom are extremely knowledgeable and of course very experienced, ours 'Captain JJ' has 14 thousand flying hours military and civilian and is in charge of 500 pilots. The kind of topics covered on the captains included Bernoulli's theory and the principle that allows wings to produce lift for planes and to fly, engine failure, turbulence and why it's totally safe. At all stages of the course it is encouraged to throw questions at the team, whom are only too willing to answer. With a room full of 180 nervous fliers - believe me, we didn't hold back!
After a very nice buffet style lunch, the next main session of the course was the psychology behind flying phobia and run between Gilllan Harvey-Bush (also ex cabin crew) and Paul. Gillian whom was trained by Paul McKenna offered a wide range of psychological tools and exercises including Neuro-Linguistic Programming. In layman's terms this helps breaking old patterns with new and changing voices and images in your head. Gillian then went on to 'Thought Field Therapy' which included breathing techniques and tapping sequences which you have to try to believe it really does work!
After a short session on medical & safety and their very strict training from senior cabin crew, the bit everybody was initially dreading - a short 5 minute coach drive to Gatwick airport for a 45 minute flight, although I remained remarkably calm. Yes, ok, I didn't have the stresses of luggage and bored children, but I was thinking more logical about what I was doing and what was about to happen. I was obviously nervous, but was I almost looking forward to this?
We boarded the Boeing 757 clutching our tickets "Gatwick to Gatwick" with all the team leaders, cabin crew, Captain JJ and co pilot Adele whom weren't flying the plane (the other pilots were doing that you see) but answering questions whilst in flight. During the flight, one of the Captains flying the plane was giving us a full commentary of what is happening at every stage of the flight with every noise and movement being fully explained.
I was slightly uneasy at take off, but once in the air I was thinking what was I making all the fuss about? As you are taught "Remember with knowledge, you gain understanding and therefore feel that you have control". After the flight you are awarded a certificate of achievement signed by Richard Branson.
Was I cured? This has been a positive experience and the most important step in my quest to conquer my fear and I recommend anyone who has been given misinformation and been restricted by the thought of boarding an aircraft to just give it a try, what have you got to loose?
*also included in the course price of £199 (which hasn't changed since 2003) is a 'flying without fear' book including an overview of everything that has been covered in the course and relaxation CD by Relaxation Counsellor David Landau.
* Courses run through the year and are available all over the country from different airports.
*also available is the iPhone app and the Flying without fear '101 fear of flying questions answered' book, just visit www.flyingwithoutfear.info for more details.
First published in 2010, please check Virgin website for up-to-date prices.