Thursday, 5 March 2009

Roger That!

I have a morbid fear of flying. It’s a fear that I wished I never had, but nature has a way of dumping on you. So, my policy is to grin and bear it – well sort of.

I have spent most of my life, unsuccessfully attempting to come up with an explanation for the phobia; sometimes I wonder if it emanated from my father’s decision to fly back to Nigeria in the early seventies, whilst my mother and I had to sail for three long weeks, but then there are hundreds of Africans who had the same experience and they currently have no issues flying. I often speculate that it might be linked to the fact that nine times out of ten; plane crashes extinguish all life on board and although the so-called statistics say it is the safest form of travel, the facts remain that when a plane goes down, it is almost certainly accompanied by endless processions of flowers and hearses.

I realise I am starting to come across as dangerously macabre with my analysis, but let’s be frank. Is there anything about flying in the Nigerian airspace that fills you with confidence? Is it the constant rickety sounds coming from the pass-me-down Russian plane that our airline moguls supply for our precarious transits or the disastrous crashes which have peppered our aviation history? Come on people, how many of us looked at the pictures of the Hudson river landing and thought; If that was in 9JA, people go perish o! The whole situation, although a bit better these days, is a sad reflection of the administrators running our country. From the Nigerian Airways that shared a sterling crash-free record alongside Australia’s Quantas, to the sorry state we now find ourselves. Mind you, we have to thank God for the likes of Arik and Virgin.

As a perpetual air coward, I have refused to fly within Nigeria, preferring instead to drive the arduous hours to fulfil my appointments, but it is fast becoming obvious that I need to develop a backbone and confront my fear, as things seem to be improving and besides, who is going to wait for you to arrive at a meeting, when your competition can expeditiously fly in and sign on the dotted line? Having said all these, I have to share a story with you of a gentleman I encountered in 2002 on a nerve-jangling flight to Milan. My fear of flying paled in comparison to his.

Dan, as we all later came to know him, was the most nervous flyer known to man. Standing at least six foot four, the constant perspiration that poured forth from the poor man and the shrivelled posture he maintained in his seat, betrayed his big muscular frame.

‘What difference does it make that you are the captain, when this plane nosedives at forty thousand feet?’ he moaned in reply to the pilot introducing himself.

Fellow passengers shifted uneasily in their seats, but I just accepted my fate - the bloke was sat next to me! He stared at me for a while and asked if I was ‘flying sacred’, he thought this was funny and seemed disappointed with my straight face.

Just when I thought he had calmed down, he again went into question mode.

‘Mate, can you tell me why a plane takes off from London, travels for God know how many hours, and then crashes on landing in some far flung place. Why can’t it just crash on take off, rather than tease people with the certainty of landing?’ he moaned, shaking his head in disgust.

About twenty terrifying questions later, I had enough.

I found myself begging God for us to crash.


  1. We all get a certain amount of built-in ability to deal with uncertainty. We get anxious about the outcome. Some of us handle it better than others. We therapists believe it has a lot to do with whether enough feelings of security was built into the relationship between the young child and the caregivers.

    Though most of us look back and think of early life as secure, there are major differences which, because we don't have comparative experience, don't recognize.

    The major difference, we believe, is whether or not the caregivers "tuned in" enough to actually feel what you were feeling. Or, whether they tried to intellectually figure it out.

    A child who develops in an environment where there is a feeling connection from the caregivers, also feels the connection and develops security.

    For the child where the connection is intellectual, the feeling connection is unknown. Though unknown, it is nevertheless missed because we are genetically encoded to have feeling connections.

    Fast forward to adulthood. When the feeling connection and the security that comes with it is not solidly established for us, we have anxiety problems. So, we make up for feelings of uncertainty by trying to establish certainty. We use control. We try to take the uncertainty out. Still, we want a way out; and escape route.

    If we have both control and escape, we feel synthetically secure.

    But when flying, these two "security blankets" (control and escape) are taken away.

    We, thus, are thrown back to only the built in simi-security of early childhood. It isn't enough. We panic.

    Having worked with this both as an airline captain and as a therapist, I have found ways to fix the problem. If you would like to read more about it, there is a library of articles on it at

  2. Thanks or your comments Captain.

    I will visit