One in four people have a fear of flying, making holidays hellish before you’ve even arrived. This year, Catherine Wylie checks in early - for BA’s Flying With Confidence course.
“Breathe and squeeze,” the captain says, as we taxi towards the runway. “Everything’s normal. Just another day in the office for us up here!”
Armrests are gripped and hearts race as the plane thunders along, before beginning its bumpy climb into the skies over Heathrow.
A cabin crew member leaps into action to help a woman two seats in front of me, who’s crying uncontrollably. But the pilot continues to reassure us that the turbulence we’re experiencing is perfectly natural, everything’s fine, and that, in case we were in any doubt that he was not totally relaxed, he had just casually binned his chewing gum.
‘OK’, I think to myself, ‘so the bumps aren’t pleasant, but it’s normal, everything’s fine’.
And I realise that I, too, am remarkably relaxed. Usually, flying’s a terrifying experience for me - not terrifying enough to stop me taking to the skies altogether, but it certainly ranked as a big source of anxiety.
My brain would go into overdrive at the boarding gate... Are the engineers checking everything properly? The crew weren’t out on the beers last night, were they? I’d get onto the plane, fasten my seatbelt immediately, then wait until we were cruising at full height before actually putting my weight on the seat (planes are already heavy - how on earth do they take off?).
I’d constantly monitor the cabin crew’s body language and facial expressions for signs of impending disaster, all the while imagining my face on the front page of newspapers, convinced that this is it - I’m minutes away from being part of tomorrow’s main news story.
If only every flight I’d been on had featured such a comforting captain, it would have saved the wrists and - on more awkward occasions - the thighs of the people unlucky enough to have been seated next to me.
This is no ordinary flight, though. It’s the final stage of British Airway’s (BA’s) Flying With Confidence course.
It turns out I’m not alone in my scepticism about a 390-tonne Jumbo Jet flying across the Atlantic at 35,000ft - the course has been running for 25 years and there are around 120 of us here, a mixture of ages from all walks of life.
The British Airways Flying With Confidence course takes place in Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Dubai and costs from £275 (Premium and one-to-one courses are also available). For information, visit flyingwithconfidence.com or call 01252 793 250.