British Airways Helps Travelers Fly Mindfully and with Confidence
“I think people are really surprised at how many other people share the same fears that they do.” – Jane O’Leary, British Airways cabin crew and Flying with Confidence Team member
British Airways is changing the face of flying by helping would-be-world-travelers stiffen their upper lips while banishing the bugaboo of aerophobia (fear of flying). More than 50,000 men, women and children have taken part in BA’s Flying with Confidence training sessions since it began the program roughly three decades ago.
Today, fearful flyers from across the globe may sit in on one-day, group classes in New York City, Newark, Dubai, Johannesburg, or the United Kingdom, or avail themselves of premium, one-one-one interactions with BA captains who are not only well-traveled pilots, but have been trained to be nurturing “flight whisperers” capable of addressing the unique worries of individual flyers via private consultative sessions.
“For the first time, people realize they’re not alone and isolated, they’ve got people who feel exactly the same as they are, says Captain Peter Hughes, a British Airways pilot who serves as one of the narrators for the airline’s Flying with Confidence video. “We start with the pilot’s presentation. We talk about the technical aspects of flying.” Through their explanations, pilots and cabin crew members help participants link what they’ll be sensing in flight to standard operations while also illuminating the science behind turbulence, and helping class members become more comfortable about the efficacy of flight safety procedures.
“Once you know how the aircraft operates and what all the noises and movements are, you can’t be frightened of it,” explains Jane O’Leary, a British Airways’ cabin crew and Flying with Confidence team member.
But just to be certain that the angsts of falling, heights, confined spaces, a lack of control, and other forms of aerophobia are sent packing, course participants are then educated about “the mechanics of fear, and how best to deal with anxiety and feelings of panic” during an afternoon session run by a clinical psychologist who also leads relaxation exercises before participants board flights for further training by pilots, cabin crew and psychologists. (Note: Some classes do not offer these added in-flight sessions. In those that do, Flying with Confidence team members narrate what is happening during 45-minute flights to enable fearful flyers to match seemingly scary sounds with engines starting, flaps moving and other routine mechanical procedures.)
“I think that people think that anxiety is abnormal. I think that people think that anxiety is weakness,” says Keith Stoll, M.Sc., M.Phil., Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who has been practicing in London for roughly three decades, and has also been involved with BA’s Flying with Confidence program for two-thirds of that time. In his presentations, Stoll asks “people to see anxiety as normal and to actually own it, to manage it, negotiate with it, and to overcome it.”
British Airways has also designed programs for children, grouped by ages seven to 11 and 11 to 17.
Prices for the adult programs range from £200 (group) to £1299 inclusive of VAT (premium) with private sessions costing more, depending on the options selected by individual participants. But the programs do appear to be well worth the expense. According to British Airways’ website, the private, one-on-one training sessions have “a 100% track record for curing individuals of their fear of flying, enabling them to start a new chapter in their life, and start flying with confidence” while the program’s overall success rate (which includes the one-day group classes) has been estimated at between 95 to 98 percent.
“For many years I have been so distressed by the thought of flying and was such a wreck on the few flights,” says Flying with Confidence participant Claire Thompson. “Since the course I have been to Italy for a short break and also to New York to see my daughter.”
Patricia Caroll, another course participant, was “very impressed with how open everybody [was] with each other” while Jeremy Gelber gained confidence from interacting with “real life people who go up in aircraft every day and look[ed] really calm.”
“You know what’s amazing? The faces of people when they get off the plane. Euphoric, I think, is a good word to describe it,” observes British Airways Brand Manager David Metcalf.”
For more information about the Flying with Confidence program or to book a class, visit the British Airways’ website.