I’ve made 22 plane journeys in 28 years. Here’s a breakdown of those:-
Malta – 6 times
Munich – 2
Jersey – 2
Edinburgh – 2
Dublin – 2
Manchester – 2
Fuerteventura – 2
Porto – 2
Majorca – 2
No problem at all, you might argue. But the nerves with me start days before a flight. A mixture of nervousness and apprehension pervade every fibre of my being before stepping on a plane.
Then all of a sudden, the reality takes over. Horrible, doom laden thoughts go through my head as to what might happen to the plane. The thought of being in a metal tube, flying at 500 mph and 6 miles above the ground, sends me into something approaching real fear. I’m not alone in this of course, millions of people around the world have this phobia. Phobia is a fear of something that is safe or harmless, generally speaking.
Flying is safe. So I try and comfort myself in the fact that billions of journeys are made a year and a tiny percentage of those end in disaster. On my recent trip to Malta, I was in more danger travelling on the roads with the daredevil driving than on a jet aircraft. After 22 journeys, so far so good.
I get onto the plane and find my seat. I strap in and watch the normal safety instruction from the cabin crew. My stomach is doing a passable impression of a washing machine. Churn, churn, churn.
Then the captain taxis the plane into position. The apprehension grows. Then we line up on the runway. It’s like going to the gallows. All of a sudden, whoooooosh! The engines power up, the force of the take off nudges you back in the seat and the plane roars off at 160 mph or so. Then before you know it, the plane lifts off. How it does this is still a source of wonderment to me. Engineering marvels.
I don’t look out of the window. If at all possible, I pull the window blind down or take an aisle seat. I try to shut my eyes as the craft steadily climbs. The power is increased. Then after about 15 minutes, the plane levels off and the cabin crew start their preparations for the inflight service.
Once the plane is cruising along, I do calm down a bit. But then there is the turbulence. The bumping and the jolting. Of course, turbulence has never brought down a jet to date. But that doesn’t stop me grabbing the arm rests or the seat in front of me. The plane goes faster to counteract the changes in air pressure. I’ve had a few bumpy journeys, but apart from an unnerving experience back from Porto last year, generally the flights have been smooth enough.
So nothing to worry about? Well, 30 minutes before the landing comes the descent. Again, some of these have been ok. The landing in Malta the other day was smooth and trouble free. But coming back saw the plane steaming in to the runway and after an inordinate time, it came to earth with a resounding thud. Of course, technically, this is not a cause for concern. It just feels like doing three rounds of the wall of death. I can be quite fearful.
But the comforting thing is that the pilots are well trained and are there for your safety. My senses are on full alert (part of my autism diagnosis) and danger is sensed constantly even though nothing has happened. My heart rate is high but when those wheels touch down, the heart rate slows and I feel relieved to have got through another flight.
The only frightening experience I’ve had (apart from the turbulence and the occasional hairy landing) was a go around in windy conditions at Gatwick 11 years ago. Ironically that was coming back from Malta too. I didn’t know what was happening and was very scared for some little time during and afterwards. Of course, this is a normal procedure and also happened on Saturday last when the air traffic was busy around Gatwick. Nothing to be alarmed about. All under control.
So there you have it. Despite 22 flights and several trips to Europe, I still like to have terra firma under my feet. I will make further trips by plane in future years. The nerves and fear will still be there. But flying is one of the safest forms of transportation on the planet, and is getting safer. Statistically very safe. But that won’t stop my senses being on the highest alert.