It's a week before I am going to an once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Maldives, and I am sat in tears at my kitchen table, giving into the anxiety that has been stabbing at my chest for the last couple of weeks. Because although I am going to one of the most beautiful places in the world to relax on beaches, snorkel in clear oceans and eat incredible food, I have to go through my personal hell to get there. Over the last couple of years, after a particularly turbulent flight, I had become very afraid of flying – and the looming 12-hour journey consisting of two flights, followed by a tiny seaplane to the island, filled me with such dread that I didn't want to go.
Since I fly regularly for work and leisure, I had gone on perhaps two dozen flights following the Terrible, No Good, Bad Flight back in 2017, and every time I had become slightly worse – so much so that I started to dread being unable to prevent the panic attacks and the uncontrollable shaking. In fact, it had become so bad that I finally realised that just gritting my teeth and forcing myself to board the flight wasn't cutting it – I had to take action and actually do something to help myself. Easyjet's Fearless Flyer offered to let me try out their course, which aims to cure you of your flying phobia through teaching calming techniques, educating you on how planes work, and taking you on a flight, and so morning after my meltdown I found myself sat in a hotel conference room in Luton with maybe 200 other people, ready to be told how to no longer be afraid of flying.
Flying over Maldive's capitale, Male
Easyjet's Fearless Flyer course - part one: Training your mind to stay calm
The course began with introducing Lawrence Leyton, a motivational speaker who promised to reset our perceptions of flying and cure it. An irrational fear, he explained, is like a bug in a computer program. The computer will be fine, but it needs to be reprogrammed to work properly again, and it is the same with your mind. In a room of unenthused Brits, you could sense the wariness as Lawrence had people practise breathing exercises, tapping on the sides of their faces, and generally partaking in audience participation. However, the lack of enthusiasm seems to dissipate as people seemed to realise, as did I, that his methods were actually working. Through different mind exercises, including one where you reimagine your plane journey and another where you take your worst case scenario and make it comical, I began to feel calmer, more in control. Fear is all in the mind after all, and since I was once unafraid of flying, couldn't I get back into that state of mind if I tried? Lawrence assured me, and the room at large, that we certainly could – and I believed him.
Seaplanes are a common way to travel to resorts in the Maldives
Easyjet's Fearless Flyer course - part two: Learning about how planes work
Next up we welcomed Captain Howard Taylor, a pilot who was there to tell us the machinations of the plane, and how almost every bad situation could never, or very, very rarely, happen – and even if it did happen, how it would be handled by the cabin crew with a safe solution. He went through every sound during take-off and landing that could be a cause for concern, then patiently (trust me, he was patient), answered dozens of questions about flying – with no answer being too silly. So we had been taught how to train our minds to be calm during a flight, and we had been reassured why flying was perfectly safe – the only thing left was to actually go on a flight.
Easyjet's Fearless Flyer course - part three: Taking a flight
The course offers a 45-minute flight (basically flying around London then landing again), and a worried flyer can invite a friend along for moral support. While sat waiting to board, I chatted to Lawrence. 'I'm just nervous to see if it's works,' I told him. 'No!', he replied. 'It isn't magic. It takes you working at it, working at home.' So I repeated the mantras he told us about to myself, I did the breathing exercises, I got on the plane, the plane took off… and I was fine. As was, it seems, the entire flight of once-frightened flyers. As it took off, everyone clapped and cheered. We all smiled for a snap mid-flight. I chatted to the man sat next to me who hadn't flown in 35 years out of sheer terror, and who now leaned over me to look out of the window, often exclaiming how good he felt. Meanwhile, Captain Taylor was on the tannoy system, explaining away every noise.
Flying from the Qatar to the Maldives
Did Easyjet Fearless Flyer work?
The real test, of course, was my bundle of flights the following week – but my attitude towards it was transformed. I was excited for my holiday. I checked the inflight entertainment and had my films planned – when usually I would sit rigidly, listening to every noise and being unable to focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes. That's not to say that my flights didn't have their challenges – just like Lawrence told me. When turbulence jolted the plane on the way to Qatar – causing a lady in front of me to cry out in surprise, I closed my eyes and did the exercises he told us about, breathing slowly, tapping the side of my wrist, repeating certain mantras, and I regained control. No shaking, no panic attacks. I didn't even have to pause my film. By the time we reached the seaplane, I was slightly jubilant by my successful two flights and barely felt nervous as I climbed into the tiny plane that probably held about a dozen people. Instead, I took photos of the beautiful islands dotted about in the dazzling blue ocean.
On the way home, I had my first real test when the pilot came on the intercom to tell us that we were descending into Doha, Qatar, and that the conditions were 'pretty windy', while pointedly instructing cabin crew to take their seats earlier than they usually would for landing. What the pilot calmly hinted about was perhaps the worst landing I've ever sat through – where the plane felt like it was falling through the air as bounced through dense cloud and jolted from one side to the other. Before the course, I would have been a wreck and indeed – the cabin was full of people clinging onto the seats in front of them and shouting out. But I simply looked out of the window, watching the plane wing fight the windy conditions, and stayed calm – I didn't even have to try. I knew I was safe.
Half a day's travel later and arriving on the island!
In conclusion, I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who look forward to flying, or who can sit on a plane for hours on end with no feelings of trepidation whatsoever. But I had regained what I had before the traumatic flight from two years ago – a sense of control and comfort – all thanks to the Fearless Flyer course. The course takes place intermittedly throughout the year at various airports, with prices beginning at £199. Tickets can be purchased on fearlessflyer.easyjet.com.