Jenny Hewett gets the lowdown on a new one-day course that helps nervous passengers combat the anxiety and phobia of travelling on a plane.
Forget spiders, snakes or even small spaces, if there’s one common fear that many of us share, it’s to do with flying. Dubai’s high proportion of expats means that a big portion of the population travels regularly out of necessity, whether it be for work, to visit family or to jet off to other parts of the world. And according to a recent survey conducted by British Airways, one in four people in the UAE have a fear of flying, meaning it’s more than likely the person sitting next to you at work is an arm-rest gripper, too.
British Airways is holding a one-day Flying With Confidence course in Dubai on Monday February 17, which aims to provide attendees with all the information and tools they need to remain cool and collected in the sky. Here, we speak to course organiser and British Airways pilot of 24 years Captain Steve Allright (with a name like that, how could you not be put at ease?).
Why did you bring this course to the UAE?
It’s one of the fastest-growing hubs in the world; around 66 million people flew through Dubai in 2013. The emirate has a very transient community and it would appear from our survey that it’s pretty consistent with around the world. One in four people have a fear of flying in the UAE, whether it’s anxiety or full-blown phobia.
What does your course cover?
We are the most regulated profession on the planet, so that’s a key message. We then move onto how an aircraft gets airborne in the first place, how we control the aeroplane and the different noises that you might hear and sensations you might experience while on a plane. We explain everything, even down to those ding-dongs – which does not spell imminent disaster as people fear, it’s just Jane calling Sue at the front because she’s run out of orange juice. We cover turbulence in great depth and the key message is it’s uncomfortable but not dangerous. We also try to get people with a phobia to connect with what’s going on in their bodies. Crucially, we teach techniques to help break into that and reduce anxiety.
What’s the most common source of fear when it comes to flying?
Common factors include lack of control, so the fact that you don’t even get to meet the pilot, let alone see them, is a factor. Claustrophobia is a very common issue too, combined with a lack of familiarity and knowledge of a plane, so not really understanding what’s going on when you’re in the air is a problem.
How many people with the fear have had an unpleasant experience in the past?
A good 50 percent of people will come to me and tell me they’ve had a bad flight. So I then get them to define what a bad flight is, because they’re standing there in front of me alive and well. We then talk about the perception of the passenger to the reality of the situation.
Do you think that the captain’s alert for crew to take their seats causes unnecessary panic on an aircraft?
It undoubtedly does. The reality of this is that the only time we ask the crew to sit down is when turbulence could be dangerous if somebody falls over and breaks an ankle. A lot of American carriers actually have their seat belt signs on the entire flight. The reason they do this is because if a lawyer was on board, he could sue the airline.
What exactly is turbulence?
In a nutshell, land masses heat up faster than sea masses, so therefore the air mass over land rises faster than over the sea during the day and less fast during the night. The whole atmosphere is swirling around and essentially you’ve got a combination of smooth and rough sea, just like the ocean. It’s an entirely natural phenomenon. Do you know what babies do during turbulence? They go to sleep. It’s nature; nobody told them that it was dangerous, it’s only a perception that it’s dangerous from adults who watch too many disaster movies.
What is the difference between a fear of flying and a phobia?
Somebody who has a phobia would be displaying physiological symptoms generated by the level of the fear they’re experiencing.
How common are aircraft accidents then?
They are extremely rare and it is without doubt the safest form of travel. More people died in the UK last year putting knives in toasters than they did in airline accidents around the world. Year on year the amount of passenger flights increases and year on year the number of fatalities decreases – the same can’t be said for travelling on roads or by foot or any other means.
Do pilots and crew ever feel any of these things?
I can’t speak for the cabin crew entirely, but I’ve certainly never met a pilot who’s been frightened yet.
The course boasts a 98 percent success rate, how exactly do you measure that?
That comes from the amount of people that get on the flight after the day course at Heathrow Airport in London. Our flagship course involves chartering an A390 jet with 100 people and out of the 100 people on average, one or two may not board the aircraft at the end of the day. We won’t offer that part on this course in Dubai, but we’re hoping to run one later in the year with a flight.
Dhs1,995 with lunch. Monday February 17, 9am-3pm. Capital Club, DIFC, firstname.lastname@example.org.