Most of us who have flown in an aeroplane have experienced the odd moment or two of disquiet. But for some people the prospect of flying is so terrifying that they cannot set foot in a plane, let alone pop on a shuttle to Glasgow or wing their way down to the Med for a holiday. Yet, according to Maurice Yaffé, senior clinical psychologist at Guy's Hospital, it is possible to control a fear of flying so that air travel becomes not merely possible but, in some cases, positively enjoyable.

Mr Yaffé runs special 'air anxiety' seminars. When people sign on for the course, they are sent a book about flying and two cassette tapes about relaxation and flight stress control, and they are expected to do some homework using these.

The first morning of the course is spent on group discussion and a lecture about the principles of flight, then Mr Yaffe shows different ways of coping with anxiety. In the afternoon, small groups take it in turns to go on the flight simulator - two rows of aircraft seats on a platform. A television screen shows a video of a Boeing 757 flight to Paris. The effect is quite realistic, complete with turbulence, engine noise and hostess announcements. Mr Yaffe says: 'It does help, although lots of people avoid looking out of the window and some get tearful. No one has ever refused to go on it, however.'

The next day the group go to Heathrow airport with Mr Yaffe. They board a grounded Concorde and then, if there is one available, a 757. Mr Yaffe says: 'Concorde is particularly good for claustrophobia because it is such a narrow plane. Afterwards, a 757 seems positively enormous.'

After lunch at the terminal (where the group can watch take-offs and landings), they go to the air traffic control tower where they can see planes approaching on the radar. Mr Yaffe says: 'It's important for the group to see how everything works and how in control all the staff look. Seeing planes trundling in and out with monotonous regularity, with as much drama as buses going into a bus garage, is very reassuring.'

Then everyone checks in for a 40-mmute flight to Paris. They are allocated seats together on the left side of the plane, so that conditions echo those produced by the flight simulator. take-off, explaining everything as it happens. Once airborne, the group is taken up to the flight deck.

'I've only had one chap who refused to take the flight after we'd checked in,' says Mr Yaffe. 'Another man did say he was going to get off, but I got him to see that he'd feel worse if he got off than if he stayed, and he was all right.'

The group returns home on a mid-afternoon flight on Sunday and the seminar concludes with a de-briefing session in Terminal Four. Mr Yaffe usually adds a note of caution at this point. 'Two brief flights don't necessarily neutralise everything immediately. You have to practise. So I always suggest that people take an independent flight six weeks to two months later.'


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