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1 October 2015

What did this summer’s air show tragedies do for nervous fliers?

When I was a boy I used to love a good air show. We’d all pile onto the top of dad’s car, gaze up and wait for a procession of Harrier Jump-Jets or Lancaster Bombers, and I loved the sense of speed and excitement.

I had friends who used to come, too, one of whom went on to become something of a nervous flier. Now that I’m a London-based hypnotherapist I was curious to find out what had happened, and when I bumped into her at the start of the year I asked her to talk about what had changed. She said that, to her, being on a plane and seeing one is completely different, and that her fear had built up over the years after seeing a procession of haunting crash images involving passenger planes on the TV.

Interestingly, she still liked planes as machines – but not when she was on them. When I spoke to her again more recently, however, the crashes at Carfest in Cheshire and then the tragedy at Shoreham cropped up. She said that even though these weren’t passenger planes that had been involved, footage of the crashes on the news had made her fear of flying intensify. She no longer even liked planes as “machines”, she said.

A classic phobia

A fear of flying is a classic phobia. The anxiety often starts a day or two before people start their journey and increases on the way to the airport. The airport itself is a pretty alien and often intimidating environment, with multiple queues and an eye on the clock that can add to the stress. Boarding mounts the pressure for people who are not enjoying the experience; then there’s the bun-fight for seats and the obligatory safety message, during which the idea that the aircraft might go down is openly mentioned.

I actually think more people have a mild fear of flying than admit to it. I’ve spoken to several pilots and even they are often not very keen on being a passenger. For them, the fear is about not being in control.

One of my favourite tips to quell any mounting fear is a deep-breathing exercise which you can perform discretely when queuing to board and then again on the plane itself. Breathe in deeply through the nose while counting to five, then breathe out slowly through the mouth and count to seven. Just a minute or two of this can work wonders.

A friend recently asked me if I thought that going to an air show was a good idea or a bad idea if you were a nervous flyer, and I don’t have a definitive answer. Witnessing a tragedy first-hand could quite easily put someone off flying forever, and accidents at air shows certainly do happen – though most air shows obviously pass without incident.

Positive message about aircraft

That said, and assuming you attended an air show that was incident-free, I would argue that seeing just how wonderfully manoeuvrable and powerful and impressive aircraft are can all help implant a positive message about them. Also, if you try and notice just how serious and professional the ground crew are, that all adds to the positive image, which can provide comfort and reassurance.

Additionally, if you have the chance to board a stationary ‘display’ aircraft and meet its pilot, that, too can help disassociate the feelings that planes = fear.

Clinical hypnotherapy is a wonderful and proven way of helping people overcome their fear of flying, and in many cases people are very quickly able to feel completely fine about getting on their next aeroplane.

If you want to try the DIY route, try deep-breathing exercises, read some comforting words written by pilots and avoid watching air disaster movies. You’d be made how many people who hate flying seem to have seen Cast Away a dozen times.

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