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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.

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:15:20


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?

The doors cannot be opened in flight due to the pressure differential so there is absolutely no chance of this eventuality. Secondly you can control the panic by mastering the 4Rs techniques

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.

This is anticipatory anxiety and can also be controlled by use of the 4Rs techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

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?

Yes, they are fully trained to keep both you and all the other passengers safe. But prevention is better than cure so I very much encourage you to learn the simple techniques, which will enable you to avoid freaking out in the first place. The real you is still there and never stop challenging your fear until you find him Steve, that is the guy who "loved flying?"

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:16:46


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.

I definitely recommend a visit to your GP who will be able to advise you about what can be done to help your son. I appreciate that this must have been a very upsetting experience for him and also very distressing for you to witness his upset. Your doctor might be able to refer your son to someone specialising in working with people with Asperger's. They will then be able to use appropriate techniques to help him to understand his experience. Although we offer courses aimed at children, sometimes, alternative interventions and techniques are more appropriate for children who have further challenges. Your GP may suggest a combination of therapy and medication. I hope that your next flight is stress free once you have received the support you need.

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:17:59


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.

It sounds like you need to come along to our course, which addresses all of these fears and more. Regarding how big and heavy the aircraft is, refer to one of my previous answers about lift, and all you need is to have big enough wings to balance the lift with the weight of the aircraft. Turbulence is uncomfortable but NEVER dangerous, please see an earlier answer on this subject. When it sounds like the engines have stopped, I think you are referring to levelling off, or perhaps the reduction in power just after take off, when we do not require so much power because we no longer have the drag of the landing gear. This reduction in RATE of acceleration (and how your balance system plays tricks on you in the air) is fully explained in our book, Flying with Confidence.

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:19:54


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.

There is also some logic in being wary of spiders as some can be dangerous, however, it is extremely rare. So too with flying, in that there is nothing that is 100 % safe, however flying is the closest you will come to 100% safety since Air Transport has a zero tolerance policy to anything that might compromise your safety.

Congratulations on defeating your arachnophobia and with the same determination I am sure that you can conquer aviaphobia. I wish you many happy flights to come.

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:22:50


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?

Please see my previous answer if you are referring to the "noise abatement" procedure just after take off. Your inner ears work as accelerometers, and so the change in rate of acceleration is what you sense, together with an actual, but very small, reduction in thrust. The other time the engine note would drop is when you level off in the cruise and less power is needed

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:24:02


I feel different as I don´t have a fear of the plane crashing or anything going wrong. My fear is simply that I am terrified of having a panic attack and there is nothing I can do do escape the situation. I had been getting much better but had an awful panic attack on my last flight for no reason whatsoever. I just sat for the rest of the flight in complete misery, hot, sweating, unable to open my eyes and just wanting it all to be over. I am desperate to get over this, but have tried CBT; hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and alcohol therapy! Only thing I have done is taken beta blockers/valium but I am scared to. I don´t want to limit my children´s life because of this and would do anything to be cured!!

Many people are uncomfortable about taking medication and if this does not sit well with you I suggest that you attend one of our courses. By having the support of a dedicated team you will be able to understand what is happening to your body and how to control the symptoms caused by anxiety. If you read the Flying with Confidence book you will learn how to relax your body so that if you do become anxious at any point, instead of feeling helpless you will know what to do to calm yourself down. You will be able to defeat this problem if you remain determined to not allow it to limit your life.

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:25:21


My flying anxiety is so bad that I have actually cried reading the posts on this thread. If I am driving near an airport and a plane flies overhead, landing or taking off, I begin to shake.

I won't fly without my children as I don't want to leave them without a mother. We emigrated to Australia two years ago and I really don't think I can face visiting home.

I have almost not got on several flights, and completely broke down and just didn't get on one, even with several kind and patient stewards trying to help me on. My husband was pissed that we didn't go on that hol, to say the least. I didn't fly for almost 5yrs at one point, and any time I do force myself now, I spend the flight in tears. Diazepam and beta blockers don't work.

I also fear heights, being driven by other people on motorways, and public transport in general. Oh, and I have a phobia of other people vomiting near me. So really im just fine and dandy!! hmm

I suppose my question is, can someone with such an extreme fear ever be 'cured', and what would it take? I'd really love to be able to fly for my children's sake, and not let them pick up on my fear.

The simple answer is yes. It doesn't matter how many factors feed into a phobia, once you have the understanding about what is happening, you will be empowered to deal with it. I am so sorry that you have suffered so much with your emetophobia, acrophobia etc. The techniques discussed in the book are transferable skills, which will assist you in dealing with motorways and all your other problems. It seems that your difficulties have blighted your life long enough and it is now time to take action to reclaim your freedom to live your life how you want to live it. I wish you every success in this endeavour.

Patricia&Steve Mon 08-Jul-13 17:28:13


I am not scared of flying at all but my husband is. He has never been on an aeroplane so I feel he is frightened irrationally about something he has never even experienced (good or bad). He also claims to have a fear of heights.
He actually blames his parents for never taking him on a plane as a child & surprise, surprise his mother had a fear of flying which I believe she has more than likely imposed in my husband's mind.
His opinion is if an aeroplane has a fault - 100% chance you crash - 100% guarantee you die.
The problem is I love holidays abroad & I am finding him very restrictive. Now we have children he will not let me taken them on a plane & I will not holiday without them. It is causing me to resent him. I am fed up of going to Butlins/Haven.
Now the clincher - my husband is a rather unreasonable person. He will not talk about his fear (just bites my head off), will never entertain hypnotherapy, refuses flying fear course & will not take sedatives to fly.
What else can I do? I do not want my kids to end up scared to fly like him.

His opinion is if an aeroplane has a fault - 100% chance you crash - 100% guarantee you die.
This is totally erroneous and the statistics say otherwise, which should reassure you enormously

First of all it is important to understand that nobody wishes a fear of anything upon them self and having a phobia takes an enormous toll not only on our freedom but our self-confidence and self-esteem also. I think that if your husband could be sufficiently open minded to explore his problem by reading the book it would be an excellent first step and might well be all that he needs to re-evaluate his attitude. Although technically he is not someone with aviaphobia, since he as never flown and therefore is someone with neophobia (fear of new experiences) there is a good chance that he has developed his difficulty due to his mother’s attitude to flying. I appreciate that you are desperate that your children should not learn the same behaviour/attitudes. If you cannot persuade your husband to address his difficulties with flying then it would be useful for you to read the book to gain an insight into what he is going through and then you could support him appropriately by explaining what is happening to him. Alternatively you could encourage your husband to address his fear of heights first as this may feel more accessible for him and success in this area might well provide him with the impetus to challenge his fear of flying.

As well as specialising in phobias I have worked for over twenty years as a relationship therapist and appreciate how resentments can build up if partners are not able or willing to try to meet each other’s needs. Another avenue to addressing this issue is to consider relationship therapy so that your husband can gain an appreciation of how important it is to you that you and your children are not limited by his refusal to address his problem. I wish you every success so that you and your family can enjoy visiting this fantastic world in which we live.

Londonlass99 Thu 11-Jul-13 21:46:03

My husband won't fly and we haven't flown since 2005. Our fear is that with CO2 in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million our addiction to flying is destroying humankind's life support system and endangering the future of our DD and every other child. He says stopping flying is the most simple single thing that people can do to make a difference.

My question is: how can we wean people off the desire to fly half way round the world to when they could have just as much fun locally?

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 16-Jul-13 22:51:00

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