5 ways I didn’t overcome my fear of flying.  And one way I did.

Woman in progress fear of flying

I’ve just come back from a glorious holiday with my husband (just the two of us!) to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.  I’ll write shortly an immensely bragging blogpost about how fabulous it was and how Pacha is most definitely not my spiritual home.  But for now, the biggest thing was how we got there. 

Reader, I flew.

This was the first flight I’d taken in over three years.  

I’ve been afraid of flying for almost 16 years now.  It wasn’t caused by some dodgy flight.  A dodgy boyfriend maybe but let’s not get too bogged down in the psycho-babble just yet.  Regardless of how or why it started, it’s been there for a long time now.  And I wish wish wish I could just go back to how I was before - getting on a plane, alone or in company, just excited to get on and get to my destination.  A destination that isn’t determined by where Eurostar trains head to.  

My fear of flying is embarrassing

It is something I am, no doubt about it, ashamed of.  It feels like a character flaw, despite the fact that people are always very nice when I mention it.  And I do talk about it - but only in the hope that talking about it will fix it magically somehow, or when I can’t avoid explaining why we’ve been to France on holiday for the last few years.   

Anyway, this year as we approached our ten year wedding anniversary we wanted to go away somewhere nice.   Somewhere neither of us had been before.  Somewhere that wasn’t France again.  We got excited by the idea of Ibiza and in a fit of enthusiasm we booked the flights.  That night I had my first nightmare.

Of course it’s irrational. 

I know this.  But this doesn’t stop me feeling it.  And as we approached the flight last Tuesday, I became increasingly anxious.  Crying because the kids said something adorable and I’m interpreting it as some sort of goodbye.  Worrying if someone says ‘see you later’ rather than ‘see you next week’ that they might be talking about the afterlife.  Even looking eagerly at the the other people boarding the flight to work out whether they look like their face might appear in a newspaper headline with photos of the ‘victims’’.

In the past it’s generally ruined my anticipation of the holiday - I just don’t really look forward to it, knowing how I need to get there.  And then once we’re there, the last two or three days are spent worrying about it whilst pretending I’m not worrying about it and generally not sleeping very much.

This year however, I tried a couple more things to fix it. 

Cognitive Behavioural therapy, which didn’t work.  And valium.  Which did.  It is at this point that I turn to two music icons to capture the mood.  As the Vengaboys put it so memorably “We’re going to Ibiza”, and Frank Sinatra in Come Fly With Me: “Once I get you up there / Where the air is rarefied /We'll just glide / Starry-eyed.”

I think Frank may have been on the valium too.

Slightly glassy eyed, listening to the Vengaboys on board.  But smiling!

Slightly glassy eyed, listening to the Vengaboys on board.  But smiling!

Ways I’ve tried and failed and partially succeeded in curing my fear of flying

As ever when you talk about fear of flying, we’ll start with some statistics:

  • 30% the percentage of people who have some fear of flying
  • Apparently you have a greater chance of being kicked to death by a donkey than dying in a plane crash
  • You are 22 times more likely to be in an accident on the way to the airport in your car than you are during your flight

And my statistics:

  • 13 - Number of flights I’ve done since I’ve had my fear of flying
  • 2 - Number of flights I’ve enjoyed 
  • £1,627 - money I’ve spent on unsuccessfully treating my fear of flying
  • £8.60 - money I’ve spent on more successfully treating my fear of flying

I have done several things to try and ‘cure’ myself.   My ideal would be to just do a B.A. Baracus and be unconscious for the flight but this doesn’t seem an ideal long term solution with three young kids in tow.

So.  These are the things I have tried, and which haven’t worked for me.  This is absolutely not to say that these things don’t work.  They clearly do for most people who attend them.  All of these have amazing testimonies and success rates.  I am a statistical anomaly it seems.  I’m not sure exactly what that says about me...

Flying a lot in a short period of time

In 2005 I went on several flights in an 8 week period.  Cuba.  New York.  Bordeaux.  It didn’t work.  I got the train back from Bordeaux and was two days late back to work.  Not ideal.

Virgin Flying without Fear course

I have nothing but good things to say about this course.  It covers everything you might want to know, from the physics, to the safety procedures, to the noises, to the more psychological issues which might need controlling.  You talk to other people about their fear of flying.  The things people were afraid of which were so different from mine.  Landing (my favourite bit, the flight is over).  People taking too much luggage on board.  Not knowing who the pilot is.   Airplane food (joke).  The course finishes with a flight on a commercial plane.  And if you can motivate yourself to get on a plane from Luton with a destination of Luton then surely you’ve achieved your goals.   It’s well organised.  It just didn’t work for me.  

Success rate - 98%.  

Cost - £267


Regressive hypnotherapy actually.  The idea that you’ve learned your fear through something that happened before you were 4.  I paraphrase.  David is very nice, and very experienced and well recommended - he even cured Vogue’s editor Alexandra Schulman amongst many others.  I guess my tastes must be a little more exclusive than hers…

Success rate - 98%

Cost - £740 plus travel expenses to London


This works.  It’s just a bit life-limiting unfortunately. I have places I want to go to, and they can’t all be reached by boat. 

Success rate - 100%

Cost - missing out on seeing the world, priceless

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

My most recent attempt was with Chris Jones, the Breakthrough expert who uses a tailored approach combining various techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).  Chris has had some amazing successes and his approach is sensible, thorough and very personalised.  I just don't think my brain can keep still long enough for this stuff to work but I might go back and see if there’s some more tweaking that can be done.  

Success rate - Chris keeps going until you feel better so I guess 100%, but not yet for me but I'll keep trying.

Cost - £500 plus travel expenses to London


Thanks to my GP who I saw in desperation after the latest CBT failed and I was a week away from my flight to Ibiza.  He dismissed hypnotherapy as “A complete waste of money” and prescribed me some Diazepam.  Pills the night before.  Pills in the morning.  Pills before the plane journey.  I was relaxed enough to attempt the crossword, but not quite with it enough to do it properly.  This is my new ‘cure’.  I was also quite happy to look out of the windows which I've not been before, and to actually fall asleep.  It’s not 100% but this is a massive improvement.  And I wasn’t worried before the return journey.  Fingers crossed for the next one!

Success rate - unknown, but for me 75% so far (I just need to go on a few more flights to test it further)

Cost - £8.60 plus the cost of future flights to places - next stop TBC!