Fear of Flying – Part 3 of 3 (The Cure – Annabelle Brayley)

Fear of Flying – Part 3 of 3 (The Cure – Annabelle Brayley)

by Annabelle Brayley

(Courtesy Annabelle Brayley)

(Courtesy Annabelle Brayley)

When I was growing up, I’d had occasions to fly in the old DC8 and Fokker Friendship as well as several smaller planes so it was a complete shock to me, to discover in 1987 that I hated flying in ‘big’ planes.

In September of that year, for the first time, I boarded a big Qantas plane (either a 747 or DC10) in Brisbane, with my 11 month old baby and my parents, to fly to Chicago (via Cairns) for a family wedding.

Halfway to Cairns, I decided I had to get off, pdq!

I felt out of balance and overwhelmed by the crowd on the plane; I felt seriously claustrophobic, also a surprise to me. I didn’t quite have a panic attack, mainly because I didn’t know what that was back then, but I knew I had to get off that plane!

I have to note that all of the Qantas staff were fantastic.  They looked after us beautifully, guiding us back through customs and sorting out accommodation for me. Next day we flew back to Brisbane on a domestic flight which was okay because there were few people on the flight.

Over the years my claustrophobia increased and I refused to get on another plane until 2001 when I decided it was ridiculous not to be able to fly.  So I flew (white knuckles and gritted teeth) to Sydney, then spent four days worrying about having to fly back.  Having alerted the Qantas staff to my problem, I got on the return flight but at soon as the door shut, I thought I couldn’t breathe. I spat the dummy and once again, begged to get off…

I’m a storyteller and in 2008 I was offered the opportunity to write a travel story about the new “Ghan” train (from Darwin to Alice Springs to Adelaide – initially built by Afghan workers).  I turned it down because I couldn’t fly to Darwin and couldn’t make the departure in time by road.   Instead, I stayed home feeling particularly pathetic and researched ways to deal with my phobia.

(Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

(Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

FearlessFlyers is a non-profit, volunteer organisation run by women pilots since 1979 in association with Qantas Airways Ltd and Airservices Australia.  Nancy-Bird Walton, Aminta Hennessy, Nancy Wells, Glenda Philpottand Jean Mc. Phee were the initial group to get the courses going in Australia.

These days, the course runs for four days over two weekends and there are seven courses running each year, encompassing two in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and one in Perth.

I did my course in Brisbane in 2010.  At the end of the first day, I said, “But I’m not afraid of flying, I’m claustrophobic.” They patiently guided me through the rest of the course explaining,“it will help; just see it through.”

Every pilot's delight.   (Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

Every traveller’s delight. (Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

On the last day, we were sitting on the tarmac in QF517, waiting to take off to Sydney when I noticed the plane was actually moving.

The doors were obviously closed and I was breathing normally. The plane was full, wall to wall people, and yet I was completely calm.

It was a life changing moment. The flight was fabulous and I loved every minute of it there and back.

Since then, I’ve been happily flying around the country collecting stories and missing nothing! To date I have only flown Qantas because they looked after me so well in the first instance (especially significant to me since I held up their flight schedule twice while they found my luggage and unloaded it), their pilots are the best trained in the world, they have the highest safety standards and they support the Fearless Flyers course.

Thunderstorm bashing up against the tropopause as we crossed the ITCZ over the Pacific Ocean on 24 December 2012.

Thunderstorm bashing up against the tropopause as we crossed the ITCZ over the Pacific Ocean on 24 December 2012.

Not only am I flying but now I drive myself through tunnels, something I never imagined doing, and sail up and down in lifts easily. Small rooms are a breeze and I can stand in the middle of a crowd instead of constantly circling to the outside.

Completing the Fearless Flyers course is, without doubt, the best investment I have ever made.   The volunteers who run the course are exceptionally talented, empathetic, practical and supportive.

I recommend this course to every person who fears flight as I did and who  unfortunately suffers the consequences of missing family engagements, holiday travel and business opportunities.

Annabelle Brayley
Racecourse Road
Morven Q 4468
P: 0746548055
E: bellarose55@bigpond.com

A380 at Sydney International Terminal (Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

A380 at Sydney International Terminal (Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

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