The South African Airways “Fly with Confidence” course has over the past eight years successfully empowered many fearful flyers to confront their fears and eventually take to the skies as experienced passengers.

Presented on a regular basis, The “Fly with Confidence” program is a one-day course held at Johannesburg International Airport. The course commences with a two hour address on the principles of aerodynamics, pilot training, weather (especially turbulence, which seems to be a major disturbing factor for most fearful flyers) and air traffic control, presented by experienced South African Airways pilots. The technical briefing is followed by a discussion on the nature and development of phobias – particularly flying-related phobias which include claustrophobia, fear of crashing and fear of not being in control). In order to assist fearful travellers in realising that turbulence is a natural occurrence, important physiological information regarding the perception of turbulence is also given. Exposure to flight and flying conditions is realistically effected in a state-of-the-art Boeing 747-400 simulator, where take-off, turbulence and other flying conditions are simulated.

The afternoon session continues after lunch, during which time a lengthy discussion on the maintenance of aircraft and the very high standards of technical work conducted behind the scenes is presented. A relaxation exercise and the fielding of questions regarding the use of medication and alcohol bring the day’s program to an end.

Interestingly, many panic attack sufferers are identified during the day – it appears that many people suffered their first panic attack coincidentally on an aircraft, and have mistakenly attributed the panic attacks to an actual fear of flying. Feedback on the effectiveness of the course indicates that approximately 80% of people who have attended the course reported a significant improvement in their fear of flying. Those with a more persistent phobia, marked panic attacks and a significant claustrophobia may require additional individual treatments in order to bring fears and anxieties under control.