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FEATURE | 29

North Belfast News | www.belfastmedia.com | 27 August 2011

Fed up with struggling with her fear of flying, South Belfast News editor Maria McCourt takes a trip to Dublin to see if she can at last ‘Flyfearless’

ABOVE: Michael Comyn, a pilot and therapist who runs the FlyFearless course near Dublin Airport and (left) our fearful flier and Belfast Media Group editor Maria McCourt takes the controls in a simulated flight

Flying without wing nuts BY MARIA MCCOURT m.mccourt@belfastmediagroup.com ne in six people have a fear of flying. I’m one of the six. That means in every row of an aircraft at least one person will, like me, be doped up on vodka and Valium or flying sober and scared. It’s not good. More often than not it’s not pretty and it’s most definitely not nice for the poor soul sitting beside you. Unlike many with flying phobias I do fly, I love to travel but, with my joy and excitement forever tempered, I was desperately seeking solutions. A FlyFearless course found on the internet seemed the perfect place to take off being based near Dublin Airport (no flying to get there, see?) and run by pilot and therapist, Michael Comyn. The course boasts a 92 per cent success rate so, after an hour and a half spin down the M1, I’m ready to face my fears along with my fellow phobics. The five-hour day takes the form of a group workshop, the core component of a programme that also offers a simulated flight and an accompanied air journey as options. Michael begins with a breakdown of the day’s activities and the imposition of two very welcome rules: the banning of the words ‘plunge’ and ‘plummet’ and a promise not to terrify each other with horror stories come teabreak. Of the 20 people in attendance the breakdown by gender is exactly 50/50 while our ages range from a young musician who, if his career is to soar, he must too, to one senior citizen who had

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never set foot on a plane but “just knew” it wasn’t for him. We’re faced with the worst of our fears straight away as Michael, who when he obtained his pilot’s license at 16 became the youngest Irishman ever to do so, speaks of the Cork air crash in February. The tragedy claimed the lives of six people but we’re told that on the same day twice as many people died in the Republic in separate incidents. This inexplicably and immediately strikes a chord with me and already my perception of the dangers of flying, as opposed to the reality, is being pricked. A call for the topics attendees want covered throws up the expected issues of claustrophobia, panic attacks, turbulence and emergencies. In addition Michael will tell us how planes work; why medication doesn’t and teach us relaxation and anxiety reducing techniques. We’re taken through the statistics which, to be honest, have given me little reassurance in the past: you’re more likely to be killed by a donkey than in a plane crash and you would have to fly every day for 197 years to be involved in an accident and even then with a 60 per cent survival rate. However it’s a simple exercise with an A4 piece of paper, demonstrating how the laws of physics apply to planes, which eases - again just ever so slightly - that dreaded knot in my stomach. As a trainer and counsellor Michael sets the perfect tone being both respectful of attendees’ fears whilst at the same time, practical and forthright. His challenges to some of the more

outlandish claims of our phobic and fevered imaginations are accepted with a laugh and your own realisation that perhaps - just on a few occasions - you’re simply fanning the flames of your own fears. We continue with a rundown of mechanics and safety measures; the rigorous rules applied to pilots and airlines and an indepth discussion on my own personal flashpoint, turbulence. We discuss the different types of turbulence (clear air, temporal), why it’s so uncomfortable, (the fluid in your ears) and - from me - ‘why do planes fly faster through turbulence?’ - they don’t, they fly slower. A dose of simulated turbulence in the flight simulator later in the day also allows me to feel the reality of the plane’s movement which, when not rigid with anxiety, feels like no more than a bump in the road. All the while our patient and knowledgable course leader is facing a gamut of questions from his eager to be fear-free students, queries which range from the most random to the obvious. ‘If there’s no ‘safest spot’ in a plane why do

they always put the black box in the same place?’ The answer is, they don’t. ‘If mobile phones aren’t dangerous why do airlines not permit their use?’ Again, they don’t, it’s the phone companies to avoid cell disruption. In the afternoon session we deal with the workings of the brain and a series of simple exercises which clearly illustrate what we’re being taught. One such practice demonstrates how the brain won’t let itself have a panic attack for more than three minutes and how the simple act of breathing can sink anxiety levels. However it’s a brand new concept for me - the Callahan Technique - which sees me finish off an already worthwhile day with confidence and positivity and - believe it or not - the outright regret of having not been brave enough to book a flight straight away to try out what I’d learnt. That day arrives this Saturday when a short flight to Jersey will truly test my new confidence although I can already tell you that this week before departure has been a breeze compared to others. For all you fearful fliers out there I’ll be back to tell you how it goes and if I am, at last, flying fearless.

FlyFearless courses begin at €150. More details can be found on their website on www.FlyFearless.com. The phone number for the north of Ireland is 02895 81978 and the programme can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter at @confidentflight.

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Fear of Flying Article Belfast Media Group  

Maria McCourt. One in six people have a fear of flying. I’mone of the six. That means in every row ofan aircraft at least one person will, l...

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