A mode of traveling I tried for the first time last month was flying. Previously, the thought of being 30,000 feet up in the sky felt like it just shouldn’t be possible. I thought I had a fear of flying, or at least it being impacted by my ongoing fear of heights. But after travelling to Durban, South Africa, having to do two flights there and back, the thought of flying doesn’t scare me as much anymore.
Having a fear of flying is a common and normal thing. 40 percent of all people experience some form of anxiety when it comes to flying and 60 percent of sufferers say they experience generalised anxiety during the flight and the lead up but can manage it. This isn’t something we should hide away from and especially be shocked at when this is the reason someone has never been on a plane before.
Traveling by plane is actually said to be one of the safest ways to travel. The International Air Transport Association has reported that there was just one major aviation crash for every 5.4 million flights in 2018. It is estimated that the odds of dying in a plane crash are one in 9,821. Looking at it, that is one fatal accident per 16 million flights round the world.
London Heathrow airport is part of the sunflower lanyard scheme for people with hidden disabilities. This is something I picked up at the assistance desk at departures. This let staff know that I may be in need of any assistance when traveling and using the airport. I was amazed by how empty the airport was when we left compared to the issues we are seeing now when traveling abroad currently. Wearing the lanyard helped me when going through security and boarding the plane.
I had spoken to British Airways by email before the flight, where they were made aware of my nervous flying, and we were able to pick out seats in advance for free. This, however, was impacted with our flights being changed and plane type changing, making the seats different. That said, it didn’t make much difference when I made it onto the plane, which was good.
Something that I found very useful for someone who has anxiety was the ability to pre-board the flight. This is something we did with both long haul flights from London to Johannesburg and back. Being able to pre-board ensured I had the time to settle down in my seat early and let everyone else sit around me. We spoke to the people at the gate and it was all sorted for us.
I flew with my boyfriend. He is a student pilot and holds a PPL (private pilots’ licence). This reassured me, as he knew how the aircraft works and how trained the pilots are. There were moments on our journey that I didn’t like, such as the turns or turbulence, he was able to talk me through what was happening and how safe it is. Knowing what the situation was and how things worked definitely helped calm my nerves.
Flying across to Africa
The flight itself, once I was settled and we were in the air, was a great experience and will look forward to do it again.
Best tips are to just breathe, ground yourself and get distracted. Once the cabin crew came round with drinks and snacks, soon enough my brain was fully distracted. Eating, drinking and watching the entertainment. It took me a long time to be able to look out the window, but once I did, the view was stunning.
One of the main stresses of the trip was our journey home. Our flight out of Johannesburg back to London was delayed over night and experienced poor communication between the airport and the airline with information being given to us as passengers. We ended up having a day time flight back home, this was hard as it was a 10-hour flight with hardly any sleep. Despite this the views from the plane over central Africa were amazing. We were able to see the Sahara desert, every few minutes there was different dune patterns on the sand. It was so fascinating.
Something that has helped me is the idea of ‘Seeking Discomfort’, a saying that the YouTube group ‘Yes Theory’ have embraced. The state of coming out of your comfort zone and giving yourself permission to be afraid without it taking over. Letting yourself experience life and new adventures.
Travel is education. You learn and grow the more you see new places and meet new people. No, it may not be as easy as it is made out to be. Busy stations, delayed trains or flights and even traffic. These come as a package. Life is a journey. Like a car hits a bump in the road. These anxieties can be the ‘bump’ you go over it and keep driving on.