Flying for me is what I imagine it would have been like for anyone else to sit next to Bin Laden on the London Underground. You know he’s a scary bastard and you probably shouldn’t sit next to him — he may explode — but all the other seats are taken and it’s the quickest,easiest route home. Most people wouldn’t be so stupid, they’d get off.
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just ‘get off’ and give up flying, but then I land in a place like Thailand. A love of travelling and a fear of flying are perhaps the opposite of the ying-yang. The thought of flying around 6,000 miles from London to Bangkok took the edge off my excitement, had me silently crying in the back of the car on the way to the airport — it didn’t help that the radio was reporting on a pilot who had been taken ill and some emergency had taken place in northern England — and melting down in the departure lounge.
However, despite travelling on a tight budget, Billy and I managed to nab ourselves a great deal with Emirates. Sitting in a swanky, hulking Emirates plane with a widescreen TV and an endless array of movies to distract myself with seemed to knock the edge off my trepidation. Three glasses of red wine and a valium later — I was grand! The twinkly ‘stars’ that studded the roof of the cabin when the lights were dimmed was a nice touch — as was our quality meal.
The first flight to Dubai soothed my fear somewhat — there were only a few bumpy moments that had me clenching the arm rests. There was also a rather long hour or so in which I thought we were being escorted out of Iraqi air space by a fighter jet. It was only when we began our descent through the Gulf that I realised, it was actually just the bright light at the end of the enormous wing — thank god Billy stopped me from alerting the hostesses.
Our second flight was a different story. The plane was older, the seats were more cramped and the TV screens were half the size and kept turning off. It was on this six hour flight that we’d hoped to sleep, but three hours in, the turbulence started and it didn’t stop — apparently, this is normal around rainy season in South East Asia. Dosed up with more valium, I sat there counting the miles, the minutes and monitoring the ‘flight map’.
Now that I am here, I’m not sure that I want to return. Sitting next to Bin Laden for 13 hours is strenuous. But then, I have three months to get over it. What doesn’t help in between is the media, which only feeds this fairly common distrust of air travel. A Laos airlines plane went down in Laos a few days after we arrived due to bad weather — that’s a bit of a shit excuse if you ask me. Despite trying to avoid hearing about this, it was on repeat on the Asian news channel so I now have all the facts and the image of body bags being towed from the Mekong stored away with all the other bits of scary information.
I wouldn’t indulge in my fear of flying because it would be totally counter-productive, but I do try to make light of it in order to deal with it. Keep laughing and joking about it and hopefully you will not only accept your fear, but the fact that it is statistically unwarranted. If you know anyone who has a fear of flying, there’s not really a lot you can say to them to stop that physiological reaction. But whatever you do, don’t tell them they’re more likely to die on a motorway — I promise you, that just creates more problems…