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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
steve p2008 via Flickr The fear of flying is one of the most common phobias
Column 'I never thought I'd get on a plane alone'
After years of being terrified of flying, Sarah-Jane Goff took a training course to deal with her fear. She writes about how she ended up crossing the Atlantic.

Sarah-Jane Goff had a fear of flying that was preventing her from travelling. A young girl in her 20s, travelling to the USA for the summer and determined to get rid of the fear, she attended a training course in Dublin with’s Christina Finn. Sarah-Jane is back on dry land after her trip and says the course, called FlyFearless, was 100 per cent worth it.

I NEVER THOUGHT that I would ever get on a flight by myself, let alone one from Dublin to San Francisco. But that is exactly what I did. It might not sound like an achievement to others, but if you had seen me a few months ago you would realise that it was something that I could never have done.

I first heard about the course, FlyFearless, in the newspaper. My Dad showed it to me as he knew I had a problem with flying. I had tried hypnotherapy before, but that had not worked and I was determined to get rid of my fear. My friends were planning an amazing trip, six weeks in the USA, moving from the east to the west coast. It was something I wanted to do, but the girls had told me that it would involve at least four or five flights.

I have had the fear of flying for a number of years. When I was about fourteen or fifteen I realised that my Dad had a bit of a fear of flying. I had never really noticed it before. But I began to wonder then – why was he afraid of flying? What were the reasons? But it never bothered me to the extent that I wouldn’t travel.

Fear Escalates

I even flew to Australia a few years ago and I flew back by myself.  But after that I think my fear escalated, for a reason unknown to me. When I try and think now did I have any bad flights, or bad experiences flying, I really can’t think of any. The fear just seemed to come from no where, it just gradually got worse into something major.

When I first went to the course I don’t think I did it properly as such. It was great but I really should have booked a flight to go on straight away. Instead I let time go by and that was my mistake. So, once I knew that I was going on this trip to the US with my friend, I said I would need a refresher course if I was finally going to get rid of this fear once and for all.

Sitting in the room with all the other people who shared the same fear as me, there was a number of things going through my head. The co-ordinator Michael handed out cards and we had to select which fears we felt applied to us. I think I picked up every single card!

Lack of Control

One was the fear of lack of control. Michael explained that flying in an aeroplane was the one place where you had to give over pretty much total control to someone else. I had a fear of being in the air and if something happened there was pretty much nothing I could do about it.

I never wanted it to stop me living my life; I was determined to overcome this fear. However, I had stopped booking flights to go on holidays because of my fear, so I knew I was getting to the stage where I had to do something about it.

When me and my family had holiday plans and the flights were booked for me, I was always worrying coming up to the date we were going. The two days before I knew I had to fly were always a nightmare. I just couldn’t look forward to the holiday. My family and friends did try and understand, but really, if you don’t have this fear it is hard for people to understand it, they just say “ah you’ll be grand”.

The worst part for me, is probably sitting in the seat on the plane and buckling up, because you know what is next. The take-off was always a big thing for me.

On the course they explained every sound you will hear and exactly how a plane gets into the air. It took all the mystery and fear out of it. It is all about control really. Just like people would say, if you are in car, if something wrong were to happen you could always jump out but when you are in a plane, there is nowhere to go, it’s not in your hands.

‘Surprising calmness’

The first flight I had to take was from Dublin to New York. I used to have panic attacks before a flight, so this time I was really surprised by the calmness that came over me, it seemed to come from no where.

Sitting there with Christina, I knew I had to do it – I had to get on the plane. I had read over my notes from the course the night before. I was of course nervous, but compared to what I used to be it was nothing as bad. I think having done the course, I had the knowledge. Knowing all the facts about flying really helped.

I did my breathing exercises, I had my lucky charm and rosary beads, and I was ready for it. The technique that worked for me, which I was shown on the course, was doing maths sums on the plane. It takes your mind of things as your brain has to focus on the task in hand and it keeps the brain active.

One flight that challenged me was when we were in Denver getting a connecting flight to San Francisco – there was a storm outside. There was thunder and lightning and the power in the airport even turned off. That had me stressed. The girls I was with were, I’m sure, worried I would not get on the plane. But I had all my materials with me and I had to just say that if it isn’t safe they are not going to let us fly, that’s it.

Big Step

Before the course, if that were to happen, that would have been it. I would not have gotten on that plane, I would have been crying and stressed out and just point blank refused to fly. I dont even think I was that bad, I wasn’t panicky at all. Before I would have been up at the desk, asking the lady what was the story, just a mess. So that was a big step for me.

Flying home was a big deal for me. My friends were staying on in San Francisco, but I had to get home for a wedding. This meant that I had to fly from the west coast of the US, back to Ireland, alone. I never, ever, thought that I could do something like that, especially as it involved two flights.

I never thought I would be able to do it alone, but I did. This time, I even read my book on the flight, something I never would have done before. I could never concentrate on anything else other than the flight, I would be sick to my stomach, but this time I was fine. I achieved what I never thought I could.

Throughout my trip I was looking forward to getting back and writing my testimonial on the FlyFearless website. I used to read them and find them quite inspirational, and I am so pleased that my success story is there now, and hopefully some people can take hope from it and know that you can overcome this fear.

Since I have been home, I have booked a further two flights, one to Spain and one over to London for the Olympics, and I am so pleased that I no longer let this fear, that was so debilitating to me, stop me from doing what I want to do. I am looking forward to my next holiday and that is something I never thought I would be able to say.

Sarah-Jane Goff is a recent HR graduate living in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Column: ‘Fear of flying won’t stop me – I am getting on that flight’>

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