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How a British Airways ‘Flying with confidence’ course can change lives

Simon Calder’s Travel

“When they come off the aeroplane at the end of the day, there’s tears of emotion. You hear things like, ‘I’m a changed woman – thank you so much, I can go and visit my grandchildren in Australia’.

Captain Steve Allright is speaking about the British Airways Flying With Confidence programme, for which he is a director and presenter.

He has been flying for 33 years, 25 of them spent as training captain. As a pilot he has clocked up 18,000 hours in the air, and a further 6,000 hours in the simulator – training and testing other pilots. And he brings all that experience to bear during a one-day course to install confidence in fearful flyers.

Commercial aviation is safer than ever: last year, no scheduled passenger jets were involved in fatal crashes.

Yet, says Captain Allright: “All the research shows that one in four people has some kind of fear of flying, and one in 12 has significant difficulties. So there are literally millions of people around the world that have this fear.”

The downsides of aviation anxiety are clear. People may decide to drive rather than fly, greatly increasing the risks to their safety. Or they may simply not travel, cutting themselves off from family, business opportunities and experiences abroad. Airlines, of course, lose business if people are afraid of using their services.

In 1986, two British Airways pilots decided to tackle “aerophobia”. Their initial work has expanded into Flying With Confidence, which now offers online courses. But the mainstay remains the same: a one-day course culminating in a short flight laid on for participants.

There are three parts to the one-day course, says Captain Allright.

“The morning session is a pilot presentation covering all aspects of commercial aviation, and crucially turbulence.

“Having run the course for 30-odd years, we know what it is that people need to know – and we know what makes them tick. So we cover that in great detail.

“We start off with pilot selection, training and testing. It’s something I’m very passionate about. I describe that this is the culmination of two years of intensive training and what goes into that, and I describe it in great detail.

“People come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I had I had no idea how much training pilots had’.”

“The afternoon session is with a psychotherapist, sometimes a clinical…

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