Dhaka, Bangladesh
A local's guide to Australia's Gold Coast: 10 top tips

A local's guide to Australia's Gold Coast: 10 top tips

(From previous issue) Statistically, I know more people get killed in car crashes or choking on peanuts or whatever. In a tuk- tuk in southern India last year, I was driven by a man who was off his head and singing loudly as we powered into oncoming traffic, and I wondered at my incapacity for risk assessment. They tell us on the course that we have more likelihood of becoming prime minister than dying on a plane. Theresa May clearly needs to take care. In the olden days, in South America, I boarded planes held together with sticky tape, on which all the passengers smoked. One of my exes had a pilot's licence, so I've flown a lot in small planes, and I never used to be that afraid. But many years ago, when I was out of the country, I got a call telling me my daughter had had a serious bike accident, possibly fatal. The police told me not to get on a plane on my own; that I needed someone with me. Has this trauma manifested now in a fear of flying? Have some wires crossed in my brain? Can they get uncrossed? There was an unfortunate incident last year when I had to get on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Armenia and they served only soft drinks. It was very turbulent and I had to sit next to an actual giant. The air crew had their pictures taken with him while I sat there paralysed with fear, pretending he was not 9ft tall. I didn't even dare put my tray table down. Everyone I meet on the course has some reason to be afraid, and everyone seems slightly ashamed. There are more than 150 people here, men and women of all ages, because fear is equal opportunity. Some fly regularly for work but hate it, like me; others have not flown for 10 years; some have never flown. Many claim to have had bad experiences. Estimates vary, but as many as one in six of us are afraid of the safest form of travel. A couple of people start crying at a film we're shown of a takeoff. The course starts with Lawrence Leyton, a motivational speaker, bouncing on stage with some corny jokes and that awful "give yourselves a round of applause" vibe - but I have not come here to be cynical. My cynicism is no match for my anxiety, so I listen and put up with the tricks. When your senses are deprived - as they are when you fly - your mind fills in the gaps. The advice, counterintuitively, is to choose a window seat; the more you see, the better. If possible, choose a window seat on the wing (apparently aeroplane wings can't just drop off). The anxiety you feel because you don't know what's happening can be put down to imagination - almost as if only creative, clever people's minds foster this fear. David Bowie wouldn't fly. Isaac Asimov wouldn't. Yet rerunning a loop of your own death is not a particularly useful ability. That loop, those images, need recoding. Your software has become corrupted. New stuff must be installed. Much of the day is about techniques to do that. I was worried that fear would be contagious; when I have seen people have panic attacks on flights, that in itself has made me frightened. And on this course people ask questions and voice fears that I have never even considered. There is fear around the age of the pilots, for instance. What if they are too young? Or inexperienced? After the Germanwings incident, a crash thought to have been intentionally caused by the plane's co-pilot, mental health checks are, we are assured, carried out regularly. Cockpit doors are reinforced. Pilots may be young, we're told, but "These boys have lived aviation for two years". A calming female pilot chats to us about the reality of the job. Apparently emergency descents are actually easy enough. There are an awful lot of questions about turbulence, all answered by Captain Chris Foster. He appears to have been selected for this role as he has one of those "nothing could ever possibly go wrong" voices. If I had to be involved in a crash, I would want him there, talking me through it. He explains that hot and cold air cause turbulence, and molecules are involved. He talks about thrust, lift and drag in a way I begin to understand. Air has resistance, it acts a bit like water, and you are on a bed of it. If you put your hand out of the window of a speeding car, that's what you feel, that resistance. The engine noises are often the plane levelling out. The chimes - which I believed to be secret code for "we are all going to die" - are not actually saying that. There are back-up systems for everything that can go wrong. It's all marvellous and terrorists now have to find other forms of terrorism, as the aviation industry is so safe. We get tea and doughnuts, and we chat. While I loved being given so much information about flying, others feel as bad as when we started. The next part of the course is about changing our internal monologue, breathing and visualisation. Classic cognitive behavioural therapy stuff, with bits of relaxation and the tapping of meridians - pressure points on your body (under your nose, under your eyes, and the side of your hand, among others) that you tap while saying to yourself that, even though you're afraid, you know flying is safe. Some of this is vaguely interesting. Whatever works, works; but I am not sure.

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