Don't let aviophobia ground you

Captain Steve Allright says people can beat their fear of flying with the proper mental tools. (Benchmark Photography)

Captain Steve Allright says people can beat their fear of flying with the proper mental tools. (Benchmark Photography)

“Hi, I’m Charles, and I’m, er, nervous of flying …” That kind of confession applies to roughly one in every four people and, as a manual for us aviophobes says, it ranges from “mild discomfort to severe terror”.

But there is a likely cure. On November 15 British Airways (BA) will be presenting Flying with Confidence, its first such course in Johannesburg. Captain Steve Allright will present the course with a psychologist.

“A lack of control is a major contributor to some people’s fear of flying,” says Allright, who is in Johannesburg to introduce the course to the media.
“It is literally putting your life in someone else’s hands, and not even see[ing] them before flying.”

I admit to Allright that even though mine is not a full-on phobia, I do get anxious when a plane hits turbulence.

“Thank you for your confession – you’re 90% cured when you make that confession,” he says. “One of the major reasons why this course works is because the people themselves want to get better. All they need is tools – we give them knowledge; we give them techniques.”

Allright, a senior BA training captain with 12 000 flying hours, says turbulence is the main contributor to making people scared of flying.

“We talk about turbulence in great detail – I would say 99% of nervous flyers don’t like turbulence. I educate them on the fact that actually out of all the things you should be worried about, turbulence is the absolute least of them because it is always safe with seat belts on.

‘No danger’
“If you have your seat belt on, you are in no danger ever in turbulence because the aeroplane is never in danger in turbulence. When you get in a car to make a journey, you don’t get in a car thinking: ‘I hope the road’s going to be smooth today.’

“I implore people never to get into an aeroplane hoping it’s going to be smooth. Because once you understand turbulence and you realise it is just nature, that the aircraft is built like a tank and it is never going to break up, and never will, then you’re perfectly safe.”

Allright says: “One in 10 flyers has significant difficulties, but you wouldn’t know because they don’t want to make a fool of themselves, but inside they’re struggling.”

That’s what prompted two BA pilots to start the course back in August 1986 at Heathrow Airport – and to date more than 45 000 nervous flyers have attended the courses, which the carrier claims has a 98% success rate.

BA is so confident of the course’s success that it offers a 10% discount on international flights booked within a month of completing it.

The first part of the course examines the technical side of flying and the second deals with “understanding phobias and fears and practical, tried-and-tested ways of dealing with these, including being in the right mind-set before you fly and how to react if you’re becoming anxious”.

The captain says the chance of dying in an air crash is akin to “not just winning the lottery, but winning the lottery two weeks running”.

Allright could not have a better name for a person making you feel all right about flying. He laughs: “Someone asked me recently: ‘Is that your real name?’”

Charles Leonard