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U3A Writing: First Flight

Barbara Patterson tells of a lady who conquered her fear of flying.

Already regretting the impulse that had decided her to make the booking, Jean reluctantly drove the three miles to the airport.

Ten years previously the family had treated her and Roger to a holiday in Jersey. A joint 50th birthday gift. She shuddered as she remembered being overcome by the noise and bustle as she followed her husband through to the departure lounge. The sudden feeling of terror, perspiration soaking her clothes as her feet became rooted to the floor. No way was she getting on that plane. All her husband’s words of encouragement and persuasion were to no avail. They had neither of them envisaged this reaction to Jean flying for the first time. Reluctantly they had gone home.

Three years later, Roger had been killed in a motor accident. Jean had relied on family for holidays until her son’s job had taken him to Australia. Every year he pleaded with his mother to visit, to stay for several weeks. Now the arrival of a new grandson gave Jean the determination to overcome her fear of flying.

Parking her car she checked the directions sent to her and found the building where the course ‘Combat your fear of flying’ was to be held. Taking a deep breath she nervously entered the room, relieved to find five other people already there.

A young flight attendant immediately greeted her. “Hello. I’m Harry.”

Chatting away he settled her in a chair, offered her coffee and gave her an itinerary for the day. She looked round, taking in her surroundings as other people arrived and were welcomed.

When all twelve members of the group were seated, the Captain opened proceedings by introducing himself and his crew, then suggested they turned to their neighbours and get to know each other.

Turning to her right Jean and the man she was looking at started together “Hello I’m . . . ”

Laughing he said, “Let’s start again. Hello I’m James and I’m scared”.

Smiling she replied, Hello I’m Jean and I’m very scared”.

Relaxing the group exchanged names and told each other their reasons for coming.

Over the next few days, Jean and James became good friends, working together they encouraged each other at every new step.

The day came when they were to board a plane for the first time. Like their spirits the sky was grey and gloomy. Assured that the plane would not actually take off, pale and nervous the group climbed the seemingly endless steps and entered the monster.

As the door closed Jean felt her heart begin to pound and the awful buzzing begin in her head. Looking at James, his white face and closed eyes released a motherly protective feeling, taking his hand she joked, “I can still see the ground.”

Later over a welcome cup of tea, discussing their feelings, they all agreed it hadn’t been too bad, letting out a loud groan when someone remarked, “Next time we take off”.

The big day arrived. Jean arranged to give James a lift. Silently they made the short journey to join their subdued classmates.

Once again with much encouragement they boarded the plane. This time the noise of the engines and the thrust of moving forward revived old fears.

Holding hands with their neighbours and listening to the comforting words of the crew they barely noticed the ground suddenly falling away. A ragged cheer went round the cabin as the flight began.

An hour later they excitedly congratulated each other over a celebratory glass of champagne, nonchalantly talking of future plans to fly again, and agreeing to keep in touch with each others progress.

“What now?” James asked Jean.

“Tomorrow I am booking my flight to Australia,” she promptly replied.

That night Jean was surprised when James telephoned.

“I hope you won’t think me cheeky,” he began, “but I wondered if you would like a travelling companion. I have some friends touring in Australia, they asked me to join them when they went. But well . . . you know why I declined. Now seems a good time to catch up with them.”

“What a great idea,” Jean happily agreed. “We can support each other”.

Three weeks later they again sat holding hands, waiting to take off. Once in the air the experience of meals, films and in flight routines helped them relax. They took it in turns to look out of the small window, marvelling at the carpet of white fluffy clouds. Later as the sky changed colour and gradually darkened, James named the stars for her. Settling to sleep Jean realised all her fears had gone.

Impatiently they waited for the plane to land, not needing to hold hands. Eagerly they made their way through customs and emerged to the welcome of friends and relations. Briefly introducing James to her son and daughter-in-law, Jean watched as, with rucksack on his back, he was boisterously greeted by his friends. Turning to wave as they departed, James and his friends went on their way to continue their ‘Gap Year’ tour of Australia.

Holding tightly to her grandson and with her sons arm round her shoulders Jean left the airport. Walking into the bright Australian sunshine she looked up and smiled at the planes circling overhead.


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