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Fear of flying? Post a question to psychologist Patricia Furness-Smith and Pilot Captain Steve Allright - ANSWERS BACK

(85 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 25-Jun-13 14:34:58

If you find flying a traumatic experience or avoid it altogether then we have help on hand this week. We're running a Q&A with Patricia Furness-Smith, a psychologist and psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience and Captain Steve Allright, a BA training captain on Boeing 747 and professional pilot who has clocked up over 10,000 flying hours. Patricia and Steve are authors of Flying with Confidence, a book based on the BA course. Both Patricia and Steve have been a member of BA's Flying with Confidence team for over 10 years.

Post a question to Steve and Patricia before the end of Monday 1st July and we'll post up their answer the following week on 7 July. Everyone who joins the Q&A will be entered into a draw to win one of three copies of Flying with Confidence. Watch out also for a page of tips from Steve and Patricia which we'll link to from this thread when it's live.

Flyingtree Thu 27-Jun-13 11:48:39

Do the budget airlines repair their planes with budget secondhand parts from that Chinese air plane parts wholesaler!

Do budget airlines have a poorer safety record!

Flyingtree Thu 27-Jun-13 11:51:08

In the event of an inevitable difficulty, would a pilot really be composed enough to think he has a responsibility to land this aircraft if he can amd save hundreds of lives on board so he can get home to his family, or would he panic, give up, and let the inevitable happen, a bit like the Costa Concordia cruise ship capsize where the captains are supposed to go down with the ship (well not literally, but in tis case he abandoned it when he could have stayed and helped people off).

Flyingtree Thu 27-Jun-13 11:53:04

Would I be able to get off the plane at the point the engines start revving to take off if I become hysterical?

madinmay Thu 27-Jun-13 14:32:50

This is fab. My fear too is getting worse but to the extent i cannot fly without my family. As far as dd is concerned i am just a miserable cow on flights because i want to be left to read my book. What is actually happening is i am staring at a page without reading waiting for the first bit of turbulence. Family live in the US and nag us to visit, i avoid where possible and now after reading our bloody weather will also result in more atlantic turbulence, they've got little chance of us visiting hmm. My questions are pretty much most of the above, but especially about turbulence and storms.

diabolo Thu 27-Jun-13 15:50:47

I have to take Diazepam to fly, although this is a recent fear, back in my 20's I loved flying. I have, in the last few years, developed anxiety issues around claustrophobia. I'm not scared of flying as such - I'm scared that I will have a panic attack due to being in an enclosed space and that I will freak out and try and open the doors at 30,000 feet and kill myself and everyone else on board.

The diazepam helps a lot, makes me feel calm and happy and I've been OK during flights for the last couple of years, but get really stressed out for several weeks before flying.

My question is: are all your staff trained to restrain someone if necessary? If I do "freak out" mid-flight what will the cabin crew do to me?

dappledawn Thu 27-Jun-13 16:44:54

I don't like flying but have learnt to grit my teeth and put up with the fear. My 9 year old son has Asperger's and is terrified of it - the last trip I took him on, he screamed for most of it (and it was a 12 hour flight!) Is it OK to sedate him? if so, with what? Will the doctor give me prescription just for the flights? I couldn't bear a repeat of the last time.

coorong Thu 27-Jun-13 17:38:42

I get a bit scared flying, but realised that its simply a control thing and boredem. When I've flown in the cockpit, I'm much happier. My fear was passed from my mother (she was in a plane crash - survived a pretty horrific crash landing). She flies on beta blockers but grips the arm rest. I used to fly a lot as a child, fokkers, cessnas lots of very small planes. I think it's the whole ceremony of flying that winds me up - all that security stuff. I much prefer train travel, so much less hassle (unless I'm flying back to Oz of course). But to Europe, much prefer the train.

toffeefee Thu 27-Jun-13 17:39:59

I used to have a massive fear of flying. I read many books on this subject to try to get rid of my fear. IMO you can't read your way out of a phobia. It just doesn't work. My last flight as a nervous flyer saw me sobbing on take off, rushing to the back of the plane as soon as the 'fasten seat belt sign' had gone off in search of cabin crew to reassure me, then taking way too much diazepam and drooloing my way home! My DS (age 3) even gave me his favourite teddy to help me feel better. I couldn't go through that again. I went on one of the well known flying without fear courses. Its was fantastic. I answered all of the questions that you are all raising. In fact, answered them in such a way that I no longer question anything.

I can sense the fear in so many of these posts. Whoever asked about the air france flight and turbulence, it wasn't the turbulence that caused the crash, it was human error. you can look up flight accident reports for the full facts. Whoever asked about the dings in the cabin. It's usually cabin crew asking for more chicken, or coffee! No hidden messages or secret codes. (I have a friend who was cabin crew for many, many years!).

You can get over this fear. I have. I am free again! smile

ifyouletmefinish Thu 27-Jun-13 17:43:22

I feel much better knowing i am not the only one who thinks the dings are the captain signalling the SOsS!

Ebe1925 Thu 27-Jun-13 18:17:25

This has come at very appropriate time for me. I am currently off work due to generalised anxiety which I now realise had been building for a long time. I had recently started a new job and part of that involves travel - it was being due to fly which was what tipped me over the edge so to speak.

I had never had the opportunity to fly until 8 years ago (yes I was in my forties and had never flown!!) I was very apprehensive about flying but managed it by talking non stop to the person I was with. This time was different as I had to fly by myself with no one to be my distraction. I got so worked up about it and in the end couldn't go to the airport and then went into meltdown.

I am not entirely sure what exactly I am afraid of apart from the fear of being afraid and having some kind of a panic. One part is that something so big and heavy shouldn't stay in the air. Another part is that there is no way out - you can't just get off a plane or open a window if you need to. When I have flown, I found the taking off and landing quite scary. Looking out of the window was fascinating but also scary. But the worst was when the plane suddenly dips, or the engine sounds like it's stopped, or when there is some turbulence.

I am having CBT at the moment for my overall problems - at some stage there will be not just how I will manage going back to work to tackle but also the travelling to deal with so some constructive help on this point would be massively useful if I am to return to my job.

Southfarnhammum Thu 27-Jun-13 18:34:26

I have developed a fear of flying since having children. I used to fly all over the world without any worries at all. My Dr has prescribed Diazepam and I'm hoping that will do the trick. Are there other techniques that I could try? I have tried hypnotherapy very successfully in the past which cured my crippling fear of spiders. I now just dislike spiders but they no longer terrify me. The trouble with a fear of flying that unlike arachnophobia, there is some logic to it.

SwedishEdith Thu 27-Jun-13 18:44:59

Hmm, saying the Air France crash was human error is somehow not reassuring grin

Agree it's all about loss of control for me and fear of crashing/dying not flying. I understand flight, in theory, so not worried about that. But can't control a flock of birds/tired pilot/metal fatigue not spotted/bomb etc.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Thu 27-Jun-13 20:18:32

So sorry diabolo I know it ISN'T funny to have a fear of flying but I pmsl at your question about wanting to know how they'll restrain you if you decide to kill all the other passengers.

toffeefee Thu 27-Jun-13 20:53:10

But swedish, you have to remember that after every bad thing that happens on a plane, there are investigations, reports, re-training, changes in many ways which help it from never happening again. That doesn't happen in a car/bus/train. Human error is unavoidable, but to me it a reassuring that it was not anything to do with the actual plane that failed. With retraining it will help something that was very improbable in the first place from happening again.

meerkate Thu 27-Jun-13 21:14:15

Ooh I feel at home on this thread grin

I have flown frequently since early childhood, then inexplicably became very frightened of it in my late 20's. It's turbulence for me too, I confess - I know it's not (supposed to be...) dangerous but I just HATE it. I am perfectly fine until the first (even titchy) bump and then that's it - knuckles white on the armrests until it's over - even if that's two hours later.

I have tried diazepam and many homeopathic remedies, Bach Rescue Remdedy etc etc but haven't found any of them helpful.

Over the years I have improved.

Two things helped:

1/ going on the brilliant Fear of Flying course at Manchester Airport - really helpful and I recommend it unreservedly (I can't remember its name but I am sure they are all broadly similar) and

2/ learning some simple meditation techniques. Now I try to use them at the first sign of turbulence. I try to breathe deeply and calmly and somehow 'go within'. Basically while doing this, I am - without wanting to sound melodramatic!! - preparing to die. I figure it's best to confront the worst-case scenario - Death By Crash - and prepare for it! I realise this tip won't help everyone grin

Watching this thread with interest...

PigeonPair Thu 27-Jun-13 22:10:55

I thought the pings were passengers pressing their buttons to get the flight attendants to come to them?

SimLondon Thu 27-Jun-13 22:30:13

A couple of weeks ago there was a serious incident when a plane left Heathrow with engine covers left open and a subsequent engine fire - a real chance of a serious disaster, those covers were supposed to have been checked by two different staff members and that was a BA not a budget flight. How can we be sure that corners aren't being cut?

Here's my story - it has a happy ending!

I had a fear of flying that built to the point where I was physically sick before going to the airport, the flight was a horrendous endurance test and my holiday was spent worrying about the return flight. I also couldn't get in a lift, which was more of a day-to-day pain as I worked in a building where everyone took the lift & I couldn't. Couldn't face the thought of going on the Tube in London again so went everywhere by bus which sometimes took for ever. Then I had a panic attack in a supermarket when I couldn't see the exit, which was when I realised I had to do something.

I searched for a Claustrophobia hypnosis CD but couldn't find one, so bought Paul McKenna's 'Fear of Flying' CD. I played it a couple of times and it gave me the confidence to start using the lift. It was brilliant smile. It tells you that you enjoy flying, and when it actually came to getting on a plane I waited for that panicky feeling and it didn't come. It was like getting on a bus. SO that was a few years ago, have flown a few times since, no probs. But I was still having nightmares about the Tube, but this March I did it. Two stops on the Tube. grin

I've heard it's about being in control - you have to be prepared to hand over control to the pilot, pray or cross your fingers, and then just sit back and trust that s/he does his/her job competently.

sillymillyb Thu 27-Jun-13 23:26:44

meerkate that made me laugh, I once spent a flight back from holiday sat next to someone repeating over and over, "it's fine, were all going to die and it's going to be horrible, but well, that's fine, I'm ok with it" in obviously some sort of similar mediative state to yourself. It didn't help me much but they proclaimed themselves good fliers once we had landed!!

timidviper Thu 27-Jun-13 23:52:05

I don't like flying but, for me, it is when we are up in the air and I think the engines are stopping. The note of the engine seems to drop until I feel sure it is about to stop. On our last flight I had about half an hour of battling panic despite Valium and several gins blush Any thoughts or advice please?

ExcuseTypos Fri 28-Jun-13 00:05:06

I don't like flying but that isn't my main problem. My main worry is if we all get on plane then there is a delay. I've heard of people sitting on the plane for hours and not being allowed out. That really freaks me out and like others have said I think I would completely panic and start getting hysterical.

Why aren't people allowed to get off the plane if its just going to sit there? Thank you

cookiemonstress Fri 28-Jun-13 12:39:27

Read this and wanted to reply.

What some of you might be interested to know is that for 5 yrs I was long-haul cabin crew with BA. I come from a family of cabin crew and pilots and have always LOVED flying, airports...often the flight was the most exciting part of the holiday. And yet despite all my experience and knowledge, when I had children, I started to feel differently about it, honestly a bit anxious about the whole process. And so I think its useful to understand the relationship between the 2 things and hopefully that's something the psychologist can explain. I have no reason to feel anxious because I have witnessed the safety, training and rigour that goes into flying, I understand turbulence, the sounds of the engine and yet I still do from time to time. Having flown with lots of very nervous flyers (grown men crying uncontrollably for example), it does seem to help to understand the mechanics of what's going on, not just the engines but also why the crew behave in certain ways and remember that hours and hours of training are invested in cabin and flight crew, with the single aim of managing our safety. I also find it helpful to try and block out everyone else and just focus on me in my seat (window seat is easier for doing this, blind down if it helps).

The captain will do a much better job than me of answering all the technical questions but to answer a few quick questions from what I know. The dings are mainly all passenger calls bells (normally because someone's headset isn't working!) or calls between crew between cabins (there are internal phones). Again these are generally all innocous, such as not enough peanuts in the back galley or locating 28f's veggie meal. The dings are def not coded messages!

To the lady who has a fear of vomiting. I myself have the same fear and also a fear of those vomiting around me. It almost stopped me from taking the job of cabin crew in the first instance and is the bain of my life. In my experience (and believe me I am hyperaware of any vomiting activity, it drives my husband mad with my vomiting vigilence), far less people vomit on flights than you would expect and when it does happen it tends to be due to other reasons such as illness, anxiety or just plain exhaustion sometimes on long haul flight. Whole weeks of flying would go past and I would not be aware of any vomiting on board which makes me think that it isn't nausea inducing, unless someone is feeling anxious.

Now, if this thread was about ferries, I wouldn't be as positive. I do not do ferries! Ever.

Good luck to everyone.

HRHwheezing Fri 28-Jun-13 12:56:48

My husband is an airline captain and could answer all of your answers.

But funnily enough, I hate flying since I have met him. I won't fly in bad weather because I know how bumpy it gets. I hate turbulence since a transatlantic flight dropped and people were screaming.

It gets bumpy over mountainous areas because of the thermals that are created. That's why Italy and Spain can be bumpy.

I thought the air France accident was due to parts in the wing freezing up so they didn't know how fast they were going and the wings stalled.

HRHwheezing Fri 28-Jun-13 13:04:49

It is in my husband's interest to save himself rather than a computer which might give up.

As for the engines changing noise, it's like a car changing gear, you need more power for certain things, so it changes accordingly.

He says a plane's engine can stop but you can glide a long away, and it's unlikely both engines will go. They have something called etops, that allows planes to fly certain distances from an airport.

meerkate Fri 28-Jun-13 19:45:24

sillymillyb - YES! exactly. I too just close my eyes and repeat, slightly manically, a mantra along the lines of 'it's fine. death is inevitable. it comes to us all. this is going to be a somewhat unpleasant and momentarily terrifying death, true, but lots of deaths are like that on the ground too.' etc etc etc
(...while another part of me is silently screeching 'AAAARGHHH!!! Don't wanna DIE!!!!!!!!')
HRH loving the husbandly detail, thanks. on the course I went on, the BA pilot told us that turbulence was nothing to worry about - merely the equivalent of a bike going over cobblestones. I love that (though I have slipped and fallen on cobblestones quite a few times on my bike hmm)

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