Fear of flying


I was 27 the first time I remember getting on a plane. I’d apparently been to Spain as a young child but I really have zero memories of that.

I have always been deathly afraid of heights — to the extent that I couldn’t cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge without freezing and needing to be carried the rest of the way at one point in my youth and as a teenager I had a pretty horrible panic attack at the Eiffel Tower.

So the thought of flying was a total non-starter. I think the fact that my father was a senior aerospace engineer and and a nervous flyer just made it worse.

I missed out on some amazing opportunities. A trip to the African Cup of Nations in 1994 with Ben at uni. Numerous trips with the lads when I was still young enough to enjoy that sort of thing. I made excuses — rarely just admitting that the main problem was I was just terrified.

Karen & I at Rockefeller Centre
ice rink

That flight in 2000 was to New York. I went with my friend Karen. In fact I went because she knew it was the one place on the planet I wanted to visit so much I’d overcome my fears. New York is like the mothership for me. The birthplace of hip hop, DC comics, setting of sooooo many movies and shows I love. It was an amazing few days and moved my love affair with the United States to a whole new level.

Despite never getting over my fear of flying I have found ways to cope. Few of them particularly sensible but for the most part they work for me. Well at least they move me beyond fear based paralysis to something nearer semi-functional panic.

  • I plan and plan. Not something I am known for generally. I research the terminals, the airlines, the planes — I end up with so much info I could write a book.
  • I don’t drink alcohol before the flight or during it. I found that I was paranoid enough about every little noise and bit of turbulence and having a few beers just made it worse!
  • Apart from going to the toilet or to stretch my legs on long-haul flights I never take my seatbelt off. People have been known to have to climb over me.
  • I have a favourite seat. Seriously. I’m assuming I’ll never escape economy and until I do I know where I’ll be sitting whenever possible.
  • I always have a book started that I can dive in to as soon as I am on board. Given I read on a Kindle now I also always have a backup paperback or magazine for takeoff and landing when they make me turn off my devices.

These days I mainly do long haul flights. I get as wound up whether it is one hour or twelve so I figure I might as well go the distance.

Next week I am flying to Los Angeles. The planning and mild panicking is in full flow already. I’m meeting Karen again over there. After New York I also flew to Australia to meet up with her 10 years ago and to her wedding in Austria a few years later. In fact I would suggest that our friendship has been the biggest cause of my getting over my fear of flying. So thank you Karen ☺

In the 14 years since I took that first flight to New York I have flown to;


..and visited a lot of the US. At the last count I had visited;

New York (x3)
Washington DC (x2)
New Orleans
San Antonio
Monument Valley
Grand Canyon
Las Vegas (x3)
Los Angeles (about to be x2)
San Franciso (about to be x2)
..and various little places.

I’m still hugely jealous of friends who have done the whole backpacking thing and there is so much of the world I’d love to see. Especially more of Asia. I also had a longterm ambition to work abroad but I think I missed that window.

But I think considering my late start I haven’t done too bad and I’ve got a little time left ☺

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