When I was 14 my Mum and Dad booked us the trip of a lifetime – to go to Canada to visit our long lost cousins. I’d flown before to Fuerteventura without incident so there was no indication of what was to come. On the flight out to Calgary I had my nose pressed against the glass, staring at icebergs and tankers miles below. We touched down and had an amazing 10 days getting to know some of my Mum’s cousins. We were then due to fly from Calgary to Toronto to meet up with some cousins on my Dad’s side of the family. Halfway through the four-hour flight we found ourselves in the middle of heavy turbulence – something that I’d not encountered before. For some reason I just snapped and started crying, wailing “We’re going to die”, and generally making a complete and utter tit of myself at 37,000 feet. Inevitably, the plane landed in Toronto and we carried on with the holiday.
But as it came towards the day that we were due to fly back from Toronto to Calgary, my Mum and Dad were nervous. They’d witnessed firsthand the complete and utter hysterics that I’d produced on the flight over and were keen to avoid a repeat. We went on a family outing to a walk-in clinic in downtown Toronto and got me some diazepam – problem solved, or so we thought. The thing about diazepam, is that it’s shit. All it does is make you feel groggy, slow and disorientated. It doesn’t create rationality in the naive and mid-pubescent brain of a 14 year old, which is what we wanted it to do. So as we sat in the departure lounge waiting for our flight back to Calgary, I became hysterical again. I did the whole Mr T “I ain’t gettin’ no plane” thing, until my Dad bollocked me and told me to shut up. Having exhausted all other options, I legged it.
Half smacked off my tits on diazepam I tore through the airport, my Dad in hot pursuit and my Mum and quietly amused sister keeping up as best they could. I was grabbed by an airport security guard and held until the airport doctor came to assess me. After speaking to me for a few minutes the doctor said – and I remember this vividly to this day – “Even if your son did want to get on the plane I’m afraid we couldn’t let him on – he’d be deemed a threat to the other passengers”. At that moment my stomach lurched and I knew that I’d gone too far.
My Dad rented a car from the airport and we drove four days and a distance of 2,195 miles until we reached Calgary – It’s fair to say that the atmosphere in that rental car was tense. We spent another few days in Calgary before I saw a psychologist, popped some pills and managed to get on a flight back to Heathrow. When we touched back down in England I remember thinking that I’d definately never fly again. When I look back on the whole thing I feel stupid and ridiculous – I wasn’t that young and I should have behaved myself. I make light of it these days to try and alleviate some of the guilt I feel about how much I buggered up everyone’s holiday, but I don’t think I could have helped it – I was genuinely petrified and apparently incapable of being reasonable.
The years passed and I went on holiday to some pretty cool places using trains and ferries, but these trips were always massively expensive and time-consuming, whereas if I’d have flown they’d have cost a fraction of the price and time. When I was 21 I met the love of my life Hollie, who shared a passion for travel but not my aversion to flying. She encouraged me to sort myself out and after ten years, a Virgin Fear of Flying course and a round of cognitive beahavioural therapy I got on a flight to Menorca with her. The relief after that plane took off was amazing – I’d made a rod for my own back when I was 14 but to overcome that fear was fantastic. I felt like a complete and utter moron for being so afraid in the first place – I mean, all you do is just sit there and rely on the fact that you’re going to get to your destination.
These days I still can’t pretend I’m keen on flying, I still get the sweaty, nervous symptoms of anticipatory anxiety and I think I’ll always dream about plane crashes, but I can book a flight in the complete confidence that I’m going to get on it, instead of running away again. Statistics are my best friend – is it something like one in 9 million flights ends in disaster? they’re pretty good odds. Having said that on the occasions that I buy a lottery ticket I irrationally expect to win the jackpot, so it stands to reason that when I board a plane I expect to win the “disaster lottery” as well.