18th September 2018
When Emma Kirkham’s 10-year-old daughter Annie developed a crippling fear of flying, they turned to the professionals for help
The weeks leading up to a family holiday can be stressful enough – but try adding into the mix a child announcing that under no circumstances will they get on the plane. This is what happened when my daughter Annie, 10, struggled to sleep and no amount of reassuring words would alleviate her fears.
We had no idea where this had come from. All we knew was we had a problem and we were on a countdown to her biggest holiday yet, a trip to Vancouver with her dad and a 10-hour flight.
I had heard about fear of flying courses for adults and after a look online I found some children’s courses. We plumped for British Airways’ ‘Flying with Confidence’ workshop, handy as it ran from nearby London Heathrow and could be done just in time for her holiday. As Annie was under 11 we would not be able to take her on an actual flight, which is available on the teenage and adult courses. I was pretty sceptical, how could a day at an airport help without even getting on a plane?
We arrived at Heathrow and were greeted by Captain Steve Allright, a BA pilot and Patricia Furness-Smith, child psychologist and former air-stewardess. Annie then went off for her session.
Annie explains what happened next: ‘First we talked about what we liked about flying and what we didn’t like. The main dislike was turbulence so we talked about how it was safe but uncomfortable. We then talked about how infrequently plane crashes happen while looking at a live map of all the planes in the sky. Next, we had snacks and went to the airport where we met some pilots and crew who were ready to fly. They told us why they loved their jobs and how safe it was.
‘After we got back to the meeting room we discussed some things that could help pass the time on our upcoming flights. The pilot then talked to us about how the plane goes through lots of testing and how it is impossible for the wings to come off or for the door to open mid-flight.
‘As our session was coming to an end, we described how we felt at the start of the session and how that had changed towards the end. In the beginning, I thought I would gradually get over my fear but when I left my fear had completely gone. ‘My 10-hour flight to Vancouver went really well and I ended up enjoying it and I even got to meet the pilot!’
1. Listen to the meditation channel on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system. On my Air Transat flight to Canada I listened to Headspace, a channel that helps you relax.
2. Keep yourself distracted by taking your favourite book to read on the flight or watch a film. They may have a new release you’ve been itching to see or an old classic.
3. I was particularly worried about turbulence. I was taught to say ‘turbulence is uncomfortable but I am safe’ over and over in my head to calm my mind when the flight got rocky
4. Tell the cabin crew that you might be nervous; they are trained to help you and answer your questions, however silly. If the crew are calm and not panicking then there’s no need to worry.
British Airways runs ‘Flying with confidence courses’ from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow airports. Children’s courses (without flight) cost £199 ages up to 11 years. Teenage course with flight for child and parent costs £575.