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How to conquer that fear of flying

IT'S not just you. The famous, the wise, the old and the young are just as likely to be shaking in their shoes at the thought of boarding an airplane. Stanley Kubrick held a pilot's licence, but was too scared to get in a plane. "I began to be aware of the unsafe aspects of flying and they got to my imagination," he quivered.

David Bowie was asked how he got to Paris for an interview if he was so terrified of flying. "I got the train, mate."

Famous aviophobics are said to include Aretha Franklin, Billy Bob Thornton and Drew Barrymore, who apparently became petrified of planes after 9/11.

But Megan Fox has the phobia cracked. She told a magazine: "I know for a fact it's not in my destiny to die listening to a Britney Spears album, so I always put that on when I'm flying."

It's not just the famous, plenty of the rest of us tremble and grip the armrests as the wheels leave the ground. Used to be you could order up a calming glass of champagne.

But there are ways around the irrational terror. Irrational because we all know that flying is a lot safer than cycling down the village street to the post office. Fear and rationality, unfortunately, are not close friends. In fact, they scarcely speak.

But that can be an advantage for the sufferer of aerophobia, aviatophobia, aviophobia and pteromechanophobia. Because fear likes to hide in the dark, whimpering. And if you can shine the bright light of truth on it, you can defeat even the most gut-churning terror.

Which means that experts can help. And boy, is their help needed. "According to aviation specialists who treat this problem, more than 500 million people worldwide have a severe fear of flying," writes Maeve Byrne Crangle in her new book Conquer Your Fear of Flying.

Dr Byrne Crangle, who ran her Fearless Flying Programme for Aer Lingus for 20-plus years, uses cold logic to beat those terrors to death and says that more than 96pc of participants in her programme now enjoy flying.

Enjoy it? Oh yeah?

No, seriously. She does it with ruthless logic. Not the "Don't be so silly, you're perfectly safe" kind, but laying out the realities. She outlines the pilot's day, the stringent form-filling, the formal and structured conversation that precedes each flight.

Laying out a tiny half-hour hop, minute by minute, she writes: "Nothing is left to chance and this short 30-minute domestic flight is as important to the pilots, air traffic controllers and ground personnel as any other flight that is taking place anywhere in the world."

There's even an FAQ with questions I never even thought to ask. "Can the wings be put on back to front?" (Holy sh ... )

"No." (Thank you, Lord!) "This would be totally impossible."

It's a sound way to approach the whole question. Knowledge is power. If you know the reality, the risks fall back into proportion, and your fear gives way to good sense.

Dr Byrne Crangle also has exercises, sensible diet, breathing and behavioural techniques such as driving to the airport, getting to know the place, watching the planes.

There's another weapon we can use to conquer our fears: humour. There's a legend, probably untrue, that Muhammad Ali, supposedly a bit of a nervous flyer, once refused to wear a seatbelt, telling the stewardess: "Superman don't need no seatbelt."

She nodded calmly. "Superman don't need no plane, either."