Aerophobia - The fear of flying course review

“Terrified of flying, I have actually stopped a plane on the runway and got off!” C Fantelli

By Charlotte Fantelli

As the nervous (or should I say terrified?) flyer of the MentalHealthy team, I was naturally put forward as guinea pig when Virgin kindly offered a Flying Without Fear course to trial. 

It was with shaking hands and rapidly beating heart that I approached the hotel in Bournemouth that was to be our base for the day. Like many aerophobes, there is much more to my fear than simply sitting in a tin in the sky. I don’t enjoy crowds, queues, enclosed spaces and waiting... not sure that anyone ‘enjoys’ these things, but for me they are triggers for fear and anxiety. With this in mind, I was not looking forward to sitting in a crowded room full of fellow anxiety sufferers – in fact, the concept of gathering 60 panicking people in one room to ‘face their fears’ did seem rather peculiar to me, I had visions of group hysteria, tears and wailing...

"60 panicking people in one room to ‘face their fears’ did seem rather peculiar to me"

I was, of course, visualising the worst, and when I got there I was quickly greeted by a very happy and efficient air host, who,would make a perfect cast member of Carry On Flying! I was escorted through into the meeting room which was light, spacious and set out in tables of 12, each table headed by an immaculately presented Virgin representative.

I was introduced to Paul Tizzard and Richard Conway, the two directors of the course. I must say I was very impressed that the two guys who run the courses were there in person on the day, and this is the case on every course they run.

After everyone was seated in their groups, we got to know the others at our table and why each member was there. Sharing our experiences and fears was actually a lot less ‘terror inducing’ and a lot more funny than I had expected, we all had quite a laugh as we related to everyone’s exaggerated visions of doom!

"We all had quite a laugh as we related to everyone’s exaggerated visions of doom!"

We were all given our own workbooks, full of all the information and presentation slides of the day, in which we could take our own notes. Everything was provided as part of the course package.

We even had a CD to take home with us to remind us of what we had learned, an to help usbuild on our relaxation skills.

The presentations started with Paul, who wrote our article on aerophobia. He was larger than life, funny and very intelligent. His arguments were knowledgeable and he had a trustworthy presence, that kinda put everyone at ease. We were then treated to relaxation with Gillian Harvey Bush.

After a break where muffins, fruit, tea, coffee and other beverages were served, we rejoined our groups for Captain Steve Bull’s talk. He had completed over 13,000 flight hours, and was still alive! And quite calm come to that. Meeting a pilot and seeing firsthand that he is not some lunatic adrenaline junkie with a death wish was reassuring; it helped that he had a Top Gun air of cool around him, and oozed charisma and experience which again helped put us at ease. We learned about lift and thrust, flaps and other things that had us all giggling whilst understanding the all important reasons why planes stay in the air!

"Meeting a pilot and seeing firsthand that he is not some lunatic adrenaline junkie with a death wish was reassuring"

Next came lunch, a beautiful spread was laid on. I have to add it was not just the lunch that was provided, no, I was very impressed by the level of thought that had gone into the comfort of the participants all day long, from notepaper and pencils to bottled water and snacks, it all came in with the package (good old Virgin, still of the opinion one should be free to eat, bring a bag and even pee for free – unlike other airlines!)

Later we went through safety and procedure with another lovely air host (whose name I failed to note down), a great talk from Richard Conway and to finish the presentations we were back to Paul who took us through anxiety and techniques to reduce our fear. This part was very interesting, and done exceptionally well.

The whole day was faultless, and just as we were all ready to face the challenge we had been having nightmares about for weeks, as we were starting to think about embarking on our journey to the airport to try out our newfound courage... The flight was cancelled due to poor weather conditions!

So, unable to test the outcome of the day, we have all been offered alternative flights. Mine is in April, so it is impossible for me to tell you how easy this will be for me, but what I can say is I am actually looking forward to it. Now that is something I thought I would never say!

I will update you when I have flown, but despite the hitch that was beyond the organisers’ control, I would give this course a glowing 10/10. What came across was the passion of the people; as a participant I really felt important, that their motivation was a genuine desire to help people and I believe that is why they have such a success rate. As for value for money, I would say if you are nervous about flying you can’t afford not to do this course.

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