There is nothing I enjoy more than taking myself off to far-flung destinations throughout the world. It's just a pity that there is nothing I enjoy less than the only realistic mode of transport of getting me there.
It wasn't always like this, on the contrary, I used to find air travel rather exhilarating and boarding the plane was part and parcel of the excitement and anticipation of the journey. These days my holiday does not begin until my feet are firmly planted on solid ground and normal breathing patterns are restored.
Like I said, it wasn't always like this. So when did the unfortunate transformation from relaxed and rational roamer to fearful and fist-clenching flyer take place?
I can tell you exactly when it happened. In November 2010 on a flight to Helsinki, Finland.
I rolled up at Luton airport with only moments to spare before boarding began. I ran full pelt from security (where I had to walk through the metal detector three times until they realised it was the underwire from my over the shoulder boulder holder that was setting of the alarm) to the gate and arrived flustered, sweating like a badger in a sauna and just in time to hear my name being called out over the tannoy. Another naughty schoolgirl moment for the Ginger Warrior. As we boarded my heart continued to thump in my chest but I simply put it down to my athletic attempt to reach the gate in time.
I was flying with Norwegian.com and it was a brand spanking new plane complete with wi-fi. It was also a very narrow plane - two rows of two seats - and that, combined with the arch-like arrangement of the overhead bins served to make me feel very, very enclosed from the outset...
As we took off and the plane settled into its cruising altitude of 35,000ft my breathing became less laboured and my heart returned to a more regular and even pace. Twenty minutes in, however, and we hit a patch of turbulence that was significant enough for the Captain to have everyone, including the air stewards, return to their seats and buckle up. Coffee and tea had just been served and was being thrown around the cabin. My heart began to race, my hands became clammy and I clawed at my legs like a woman possessed. After 10 minutes of rocking back and forth and no doubt terrifying the poor lady sat next to me I couldn't take it anymore. I undid my seat belt, marched to the back of the plane, flung the curtains open and told the two bewildered air hostesses in no uncertain terms that they needed to land the plan, right here, right now. No, seriously, this actually happened. I don't think the air hostesses could quite believe it either because for a few brief seconds they didn't say anything and continued to look at each other in complete and utter shock. I continued with my impassioned plea that the plane be put on the ground all the while feeling more and more like a caged animal. Not happy with the non-responsive service at the back of the plane I practically ran down the aisle to the front section where I found more unsuspecting stewards. By this point I was crying hysterically (but quietly, I was sufficiently compos mentis to not want to completely freak out my fellow passengers) and could barely breathe in between sobs. One air hostesses kindly gave me her phone and I skyped Craigy Boy from 35,000ft. He was out walking the dog in Brackley when he received a call from an unknown number. He answered only to hear me begging him to somehow have them land the plane. Poor Craig, can you imagine? I mean what did I actually think he was going to be able to accomplish? He tries and is able to do most things for me but this request may have been stretching both his influence and his resources somewhat. I hung up in frustration. Could nobody help me?? Even the Captain tried. Yup, that's right, the Captain. He had been informed of the situation and came out to speak to me in an attempt to alleviate my fears. And he did try, bless him. He reminded me of the usual air safety statistics ("more likely to be hit by a car") and reassured me that he had been successfully landing planes for over two decades. In the end only the oxygen tank could rescue me.
Writing this and reading it back makes me laugh and squirm in equal measure. But believe me, at the time there was absolutely nothing funny or humorous about the situation and I was convinced my demise was imminent.
Ever since that fateful flight to Finland I have continued to feel intense anxiety when boarding a plane and I am ill at ease throughout the entire journey. (Recent events, I might add, have done nothing to quell my aviational angst). But you know what? I still do it. And I will be doing it this time tomorrow when Craigy and I will be bound for the Big Apple. I point blank refuse to give into my fear and allow it to dominate my life.
I would just like to finish by saying that I have an abundance of sympathy, empathy and understanding for anyone with a fear of, well, anything. More often than not our misgivings are misplaced, misunderstood and entirely irrational but that does not detract from the fact that they are very real and can have an adverse and parlaysing effect on our lives.
As for me, I wouldn't go so far as to say that my fear of flying has reached phobic proportions but were it ever to do so, I would not hesitate to seek professional help. But for now I'm getting by with a little bit of pluck, a modicum of courage and a whole lot of Valium.
Ginger Warrior, over and out.