One of the things I have learned about myself through going to Australia is that the irrational fear of flying I have gradually developed over the last few years has become a genuine, terrifying and very serious, if still irrational, fear of flying.
The root of my fear is this: I spend the whole flight thinking that I’m going to die.
The first time I flew, I gawped out of the window at the tiny buildings on the ground, overcome by the brilliance of the experience and the miracle of flight. But the experience seems to have been clouded for me by the sheer stupidity of hurtling at speeds we were never meant to reach at a height we were never meant to reach in a big, heavy lump of metal which would nevertheless crumple like paper if it were to hit the ground in the wrong way.
Superman smugly tells us that flying is “still statistically the safest way to travel”. Bullshit. So statistically a higher percentage of people die travelling on foot from their bedroom to their living room, do they?
People who I toured Australia with thought that my fear of flying was a bit of a joke, a way to make take-off a little more exciting with a few effeminate shrieks.
If they could see into my head, they would see that there’s nothing funny about it. I spend most of the duration of any flight thinking about death, contemplating how painful it’s likely to be and the variety of ways it could happen, and praying very very hard indeed. If I prayed that hard in church I’d be a Saint already. If I manage to get engrossed enough in an in-flight movie to forget my location for a few minutes, the slightest bit of turbulence has me hyperventilating and working out exactly who I would contact first if I had time to turn on my mobile phone before the plane hit the ground/sea/building. (Interestingly, it is somebody who I don’t contact very often under normal circumstances.)
It’s absolutely torturous – I just spent about twenty hours on planes to get back to England and I reckon I spent about eighteen and a half hours of the journey thinking about dying. That’s why I didn’t sleep at all. And it’s not like I even died, it turns out.