Q&A: Working in F1 with a fear of flying

Formula 1 and flying go hand in hand. You can’t work on the F1 race teams without making flights at least every other week. Simple.

But what happens if, like millions of other people in the world, you suffer from a chronic phobia of flying? After all, it’s a completely rational fear.

After posting ‘Help! I have a fear of flying.’ ( Help! I have a fear of flying. )a few months ago, a couple of you got in touch.

However, one response stood out.

Can you work in a race team if you have a fear of flying?

I spoke to an F1 team member recently, to see how they cope with travelling.

How many flights do you board a month?

It all depends on how many races I’m attending. It also depends if the races are back-to-back, because we will often take a chartered flight. I would say six is a good average.

Where do you prefer to sit in the cabin?

I keep changing to be honest! The one thing that remains constant is that I prefer to sit over the wing due to the ride being more comfortable. In terms of window or aisle though I prefer the window for short-haul, but aisle for long haul. I choose aisle for long haul because I can’t sleep on any flights so need to move around. I am starting to lean towards window for both though, just because I find staring out of the window so relaxing, which is important for me.

What coping mechanisms do you use?

I have several. I take anxiety tablets an hour before the flight. It’s not advised, but I also have a few glasses of red wine before and during the flight to calm the nerves. Other mechanisms include squeezing mini stress balls and, quite simply, chatting to cabin crew. They always make me feel at ease, even during very bumpy flights.

 What triggered your fear of flying?

I can’t pinpoint one reason really. When I was younger, I loved flying, but like most children I was naïve to the world and ultimately fearless. Now, with all that’s going on in the world and every plane disaster being extensively reported it’s not surprising that my mind switches to panic.

 What thoughts come into your head when someone mentions the word ‘plane’?

Tedious. Weirdly, for short-haul flights, I don’t tend to feel too nervous because I know that in an hour or so I’ll be back on the ground. But for a long haul I feel physically sick. The fact that I can’t sleep on a plane, despite trying everything available, probably contributes to that. I have to find things to occupy my mind so I don’t panic.

Has your phobia eased?

It eases and escalates in equal measure. I can be completely relaxed on one flight but a nervous wreck on another. I’m not sure why, but I have been fluctuating all season.

Do people around you notice your phobia?

Yes, several colleagues are now aware of my fear. Some I have told prior to flying, others have witnessed me gripping the seat frantically during turbulence.

What has been your worst experience in flight?

I haven’t had any terrible turbulence. But on the way to Malaysia this year the first hour of the flight was very bumpy and that left me on edge for the entire flight. The cabin crew were also advised to strap in on the way back from Japan just recently. The turbulence wasn’t actually too bad but knowing the crew were strapped in too made me fear the worst.

What feelings run through your head before you take off and once you land?

Before I take off I pray. I’m not religious in any way but I pray for safety. Because even though extremely skilled pilots are controlling the plane I feel as though my ‘fate’ is out of any human control. So I feel incredibly nervous. Looking out of the window helps me relax though so I will just stare outside and will often begin to feel more at ease. I am always ok when coming into land because I know the flight is coming to an end. When the wheels touchdown I feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It’s total relief.

The drivers seem to have fun whilst flying
The drivers seem to have fun whilst flying

Do many people in the industry have the same fear?

I know some people in the industry that do. But it feels embarrassing. Because we have to do it so much, and we fly with colleagues who are seemingly completely comfortable with flying, it’s hard to talk to anyone about it.

Does knowing that you’re on the same flight as some of the drivers/celebrities of the sport make a difference?

Yes actually. When you step onto a plane and you see the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart and various drivers and team bosses who have been flying all over the world for years it does make you feel at ease, because you think to yourself: “How is he/she feeling right now? Are they scared?” And 99% of the time they’re completely relaxed, reading a newspaper, having some wine or fast asleep. The hope is that one day I can be as relaxed as they are. I’m sure a flatbed in business class would help!

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