If you see me sat at the same gate as you in an airport, change your flight. I am the worst flier; I have a pathological fear of it which has in the past resulted in me screaming “we’re all going to die” whilst the plane was still on the ground, not that I remember that particular episode. The funny thing is, I’m utterly fascinated by flight. I love everything about it except flying itself.
Walking past a lovely non-fiction table in Waterstones, I happened upon Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker. As a pilot for British Airways, Mark has been flying 747s for years and has now committed some of his experiences to paper. And what experiences they are. He turns the most mundane experiences (long-haul flying) into glorious looks at the beauty of our planet and the loneliness that comes with being a long-haul pilot. One passage in particular about radio frequencies in the sky is haunting and wonderful. I read it over and over. Things you’d never think about as a passenger are touched upon, such as flying with a team of people you met an hour before take off, place-lag versus jetlag and how non-pilot friends don’t entirely understand Mark’s life. How he finds himself startled to be back in London after flying to Africa and back in a day, but grounds himself whilst washing African soil off his boots. It’s an astonishing look at pilot life, and has really opened my eyes to what can be seen out of an aeroplane window.
To date, I’ve never met anyone who understands what I go through when I fly. It starts when I decide to go somewhere, ramps up when I book and in the weeks running up to the flight I’m plagued by dreams and nightmares about flying. There’s no reasoning with me and no point telling me it’ll be okay. I’ve had people suggest hypnotism, have thrown off valium and sleeping pills, had flying courses suggested and even taken a lesson, but none of that has helped. Skyfaring is the only book I’ve read, and probably will read, which has taken away some of the terrible fear I feel about handing my life over to someone else.
It’s a truly lovely and reassuring book to read.I fly for the first time in four years next week, and I can honestly say I will most likely be clutching my copy of Skyfaring with tags for my favourite passages to remind me that whilst what I’m about to do is unbearably terrifying to me, there is beauty in it if I can just calm myself down long enough to see it.
I hope if I fly long-haul again Mark is one of my pilots. I’d really love to meet him and thank him for making the ordeal just a tiny bit easier.