Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Comment - A Fear of Flying

I've just arrived home from a couple of weeks in California, driving with my family up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco doing the tourist thing, taking in a the sights on the way. And a very nice time we had too - I can highly recommend it. But you did not come to this page to read about my holidays. What this post is about is the 10 hours I had to spend each end of my holiday on an aircraft.

Spending this sort of time cramped up in the belly of a metal cylinder is not most people's idea of fun, and at best is viewed as a necessary evil in order to experience at first hand the wonders that this planet has to offer us mere mortals. The airlines do a creditable and well meaning job of trying to persuade us that "your holiday begins when you step on board" and all that, with their hot towels and, if you are lucky, personal video screens complete with selection of the latest movies, but who are they kidding? At the end of the day it is a pretty miserable experience. And for a fair few of us, it is worse than that.

This may be a surprise to you, coming from someone who's waking hours are generally spend mired in the world of all things aviation, but I confess to the world that I'm actually terrified of flying. For me, aircraft are best admired from the outside. From the ground. You may laugh and think I'm being ridiculous, or you may even sympathise, but that is the way I am, and despite having flown for business and pleasure my entire adult life (often several times a week in my previous incarnation as an I.T. consultant) this fear has never receded. It does not physically stop me, I do generally manage to control it (usually with the help of extreme stoicism and a certain amount of alcohol), but it is the fly in the ointment of every travel experience for me. If you were to offer me a flight in a Spitfire over the English Channel, my excitement and sense of occasion would far outweigh any trepidation, but a 747 over the Atlantic? No thanks.

The sensible part of me knows that this fear is irrational, and deep down I know that I am far safer on an aircraft than on any other mode of transport, but any of you who share my phobia will know that this does not really help at the time. Flying on an aircraft is such a different and mind bending experience compared to all other surface based methods that is it hard to make any comparison. I understand the science and physics as well as, indeed maybe better, than most. But hurtling through the air, several miles above the ground, in a metal container weighing hundreds of tons, at speeds ten times those experienced in most everyday situations, and then expecting it to all end happily, just seems plain wrong on a primeval level. Airport and tourism staff don't help either. Why do they insist on wishing you a "safe flight"? Don't they realise that, for us phobics, they are therefore implying that there is a chance that it won't be? And "did you have a good flight?". Please. I'm here, alive and uninjured, aren't I? Therefore it was, by my definition, good.

But before I am accused of creating new phobics, we must not forget that it is a remarkable thing that mankind has achieved here. Not only are the speeds, technical accomplishment and efficiencies so far beyond anything else we would ever experience outside of a space program, but we have managed to make it unbelievably, nay incomprehensibly, safe. The fact that on the extremely rare occasion something does go tragically wrong it is global news, proves this point. And what is more, the "magic" of flight is undoubtedly what has always drawn me to the world of aviation and given me such respect for the pioneers and history of it. As you know, military subjects are closest to my heart, the most respect goes to those pilots. At least when I get on a plane to go on holiday I am not pursued by a squadron of fighters with big cannons all hell bent on making sure I don't arrive at all.

But if, like me, you are a worrier, nothing really helps, I know. Most people on the plane around me are probably thinking about what they were going to do when they get to their destination, or some other mundane future activity. Me, I'm just sitting there waiting for a messy end being torn to bits in the massive fireball that a part of me is sure will happen any second.

At least I'm not bored.

No comments:

Post a Comment