Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

Breathe: Dubai travellers take simple steps towards conquering their fear of flight

British Airways runs confidence classes where participants learn to control their breathing and enjoy the journey.
BA’s Captain Steve Allright tells his students they can conquer their fears with simple techniques during the Flying with Confidence course in the Capital Club, Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
BA’s Captain Steve Allright tells his students they can conquer their fears with simple techniques during the Flying with Confidence course in the Capital Club, Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

The fear of flying with which some travellers wrestle can take many forms.

Some cry during a bumpy landing or panic when their plane experiences turbulence.

Others fear the doors will blow open at great altitude or worry that their flight will be shot at.

Facing down that fear was the reason mothers, housewives, business owners and executives signed up for a Flying with Confidence course run by British Airways in Dubai on Saturday.

When Ursula Renique was a teenager a sudden loss of cabin pressure on her flight, causing oxygen masks to deploy, put fear in her that has remained for more than 25 years.

Since then, she has never flown unaccompanied.

Now she wants to stay calm on a flight and ensure her anxiety does not affect her young children.

“When they see me afraid and see me crying, I tell them I’m overcoming it,” said Ms Renique, who wants to fly to see her grandmother in her native Peru.

“I do fly but I hate it. I want to overcome this and start doing things by myself.”

Monique has always been scared of flying.

The next few months will determine whether she can tackle symptoms of panic – rapid heartbeat and crying that worsened on two recent flights troubled by turbulence and a bad landing.

“I’m hoping this (course) and reassurance will get through my head and I will learn to cope. If I can’t get over it, I will have to stop flying,” she said.

The participants were taught to monitor their breathing when they heard loud sounds during take off, throughout the flight and on landing.

Repeating phrases such as “Turbulence is uncomfortable, but not dangerous” and understanding the explanations for sudden movements, strong winds, and jetstreams were part of the course.

The training and regular testing pilots undertake, their ability to assess weather, the support from air traffic control and the security briefings given about no-fly zones were explained with the aim of reassuring the nervous travellers.

As the time leading up to a flight can be traumatic, participants were taken through this to break through their anxiety.

“Some symptoms are caused even just by the thought of going on a flight and leading up to it like getting to the airport, walking through the terminal,” said BA captain Steve Allright, who has co-authored a book on the subject.

“These are symptoms of anticipatory anxiety, which is the fear of what is about to happen rather than what actually happens.”

Saturday’s event was the fifth such course conducted in Dubai since 2014.

In the UK, courses run throughout the year. More than 50,000 people have enjoyed the benefits of the course since it first took off in 1986.

While participants take a short flight accompanied by the trainers at the end of the course in the UK, in Dubai they are offered the flight option at a date of their choosing.

Practising the breathing techniques, helping participants understand how phobias develop is part of the focus.

“It can be a learned emotional response by observation, so people do pick up from their parents and it can also be due to bad experiences they have had on board or false alarms and quite often it comes from stress,” said Aiofe Duggan, a BA pilot and phobias counsellor.

“Remembering what they have learnt like regulating their breathing, contracting and relaxing muscles will help not let that panic take over.”


Updated: October 15, 2016 04:00 AM