Fighting the Fear of Flying
David Clensy speaks to the man making a business out of helping people learn to fly
WITH one in six people suffering from a fear of flying, it makes absolute economic sense for airlines to try to come up with ways of alleviating those fears.
Tim Jeans – a former high-flying (excuse the pun) airline executive, both as commercial director of Ryan Air in the 1990s, and then as managing director of Monarch for six years – knows all too well how much of an effect flight-phobics can have on a business, with planes regularly delayed while hysterical passengers have to be led back off the plane.
Which is why, after taking a career gap year travelling through Europe, Tim has set up his own company, organising special "Fearless Flyer" courses for easyJet.
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"As MD of an airline, I used to get reports each morning on all the flights from the previous 24 hours, and I was always stunned by the number of planes that had been forced to taxi back to the gate before taking off because one of the passengers just couldn't cope with the idea of flying.
"So I knew that addressing these fears was not just an important thing to do for these people, but it also absolutely makes economic sense for an airline like easyJet to make an investment in addressing these phobias."
"Not only will it increase their market to get more people flying, people are likely to have great brand loyalty towards the airline that got them over their fears."
In the first wave of courses, Tim and his team are organising events at Bristol, Glasgow, Newcastle and Watford – with the Bristol course taking place on November 21.
"We have had a lot of interest in the course – we will have helped more than 200 people with their fear of flying in the next few weeks.
"At £125 the course is more than half the price of the next nearest similar course – we have kept costs to a minimum, because we want to offer this to as many people as possible," he adds.
"The course is in two parts. We have a seminar day in a city centre hotel, followed by a specially chartered flight in an Airbus A319 a couple of days later.
"I separated them deliberately, so participants would have 48 hours to practise the techniques learned in the seminar, but also so that the trip to the airport on the following weekend would feel much more like a genuine flight – leaving from home, checking-in, getting through security and so on.
"For some people the fear of flying extends to the airport itself, so I wanted the main body of the course to take place in a hotel away from the airport environment where people can feel relaxed.
"The first half of the day begins with a talk from one of our easyJet captains who talks you through the technical issues that often concern people – things like turbulence, and what happens if an engine fails.
"Then in the afternoon, we have Channel 4's Fear of Flying host, Lawrence Leyton, who talks participants through a number of psychological techniques that they can adopt to overcome their own fears.
"These range from simple mind-over-matter techniques, right through to a sort of facial massage which acts like acupuncture without the needles.
"Essentially Lawrence is focused on trying to re-programme the minds of these people, so that when they step on to an aircraft, they are not automatically playing disaster movies in their head, but are rather focused on the reality of just how safe flying really is.
"Then, when it comes to the flight itself, we have a special one-hour flight, which allows participants to put the techniques into practice in a relaxed atmosphere."We even have an additional aircraft captain in the cabin – additional to the one flying the plane, that is – who can talk people through any residual fears they may still have."
Tim says flight-phobics tend to fall into one or more of four categories: "There are those with a fear of heights, then there are the claustrophobic people – those who are afraid of enclosed spaces. Then there are a lot whose phobia is about a lack of control – they are made nervous because they don't have direct influence on flying the plane; and there are some who have a genuine phobia of flying – those who don't believe the aircraft can remain in the air without falling to the ground.
"Because the fear of flying can be made up by such diverse phobias, that's why we need to try a broad range of techniques to combat the fear – to find the one best-suited to the individual."
To book a place, visit www.fearlessflyer.easyJet .com