Im a British Airways Captain and these facts will

I’m a British Airways Captain – and these facts will help you heal your fear of flying

Can’t mentally get rid of the fear of air travel?

Then allow us to introduce you to the ultimate ally in this very mundane battle – British Airways Captain Steve Allright.

The (aptly named) pilot runs the BA course “Flying with Confidence” for nervous pilots – and here shares some aircraft facts that will help ensure your next flight is fear-free, from how easy an airplane’s glide is to why turbulence is nothing to worry about.

How worried should passengers be about turbulence?

Captain Allright tells Web Travel: “Our key takeaway from the British Airways Flying with Confidence course is ‘Turbulence is uncomfortable but never dangerous’.

British Airways Captain Steve Allright (above) leads the BA course 'Flying with Confidence' for nervous passengers

British Airways Captain Steve Allright (above) leads the BA course ‘Flying with Confidence’ for nervous passengers

“All modern commercial aircraft are incredibly robust and can withstand a lot of turbulence. From the early years of aviation, designers knew what was required, and many safety factors are higher than any other mode of transportation.

“Furthermore, and this is crucial, new aircraft are subjected to extreme stresses before they are approved to carry passengers. In our Flying with Confidence course, we show a Boeing 787 in a test rig, stressing the wings well beyond what they would ever experience in even the most severe turbulence. Coupled with the above statement, our customers find this very reassuring.’

How far can an airplane fall even in turbulence?

Captain Allright says, “Certainly not the thousands of feet you hear people talking about or see in some movies. Usually only about 10 to 20 feet in turbulence, although this can be more in severe turbulence.

“It is important to emphasize that your pilots are trained to deal with turbulence and that severe turbulence is extremely rare. I’ve been flying for 32 years and I’ve only experienced severe turbulence once.”

What is the main purpose of wearing seat belts during turbulence?

Captain Allright says, “We don’t want people getting hurt by falling over in turbulence. We always emphasize that customers should follow the advice and instructions of the crew at all times.”

Are there parts of the aircraft where the effects of turbulence are less severe?

Captain Allright says:

Captain Allright says: “Our key takeaway from British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course is ‘turbulence is uncomfortable but never dangerous’. Allright is captain on the 787 (above)


Learn to control your breathing. If you’re feeling anxious, hold your breath, then take a long, deep breath in, followed by a long, deep breath out. Continue taking long deep breaths.

Combine the deep inhalation with a muscle contraction. Clenching your buttocks is most effective because it overrides other nervous signals that are going up and down your spinal cord.

Break a long flight into half-hour segments. Plan things you want to do, maybe things you never get to do. Write a letter, watch a movie, read a book, eat something.

Imagine getting off the plane into the arms of your loved ones, into a wonderfully warm climate or into a successful business meeting.

Source: Course by BA.

Captain Allright says, “Hardly. It’s possible you’ll have a little less movement near the middle of some planes, but it’s negligible – which is important to remember that turbulence can be uncomfortable but not dangerous.’

What’s that loud squeak you hear after the plane backs out of the gate?

Captain Allright says: “This is known as the Airbus ‘barking dog’ noise. We give a full explanation on the course and talk customers through every single noise during flight which gives added reassurance, but basically it’s the sound of the plane’s hydraulic propulsion system working. More importantly, it’s perfectly normal, like so many noises that anxious passengers on airplanes can worry about. We encourage participants in our courses to assume everything is normal unless told otherwise.”

Some people worry that an airplane is just “too heavy to take off”…any words of comfort for that?

Captain Allright says, “Pilots carefully calculate the speed at which it is safe to take off, using sophisticated technology to ensure the aircraft weight is correct. This is controlled and double checked, which applies to every aspect of our security procedures and checklists.’

Some get scared after take off because it sounds like the engines cut out at a certain altitude…

Captain Allright says, “We spend quite a bit of time explaining that on the course because it’s quite complicated. Basically the balance system in your inner ear plays tricks on you when we reduce power after take off because we don’t need as much power anymore as drag is reduced after landing gear retraction. Everything quite normal.«

Is there a risk that the plane will run out of fuel?

Captain Allright says, “We always assure those on the Flying with Confidence course that the aviation industry always considers the very highest safety margins. Even after a go-around and a diversion, aircraft always have enough landing capacity – at least 30 minutes of flight time left. This is regulated by law and a lot of planning goes into every flight, for example choosing diversion airports if they are necessary. Everything is meticulously planned in advance.”

What if the engines fail?

Captain Allright says, “The wings allow airplanes to fly, not the engines. An airliner flying at 30,000 feet can glide 100 miles even with all engines out.’

Can a plane land if all the wheels are broken?

Captain Allright says, “Yes. While such a scenario is highly unlikely, safety is always a priority – so pilots practice extensively for a wide range of potential emergency scenarios.

Commercial aircraft are incredibly well maintained, says Captain Allright, and are checked by pilots and engineers before each flight

Commercial aircraft are incredibly well maintained, says Captain Allright, and are checked by pilots and engineers before each flight

“It’s worth remembering that pilots are the best trained and most regulated professionals in the world and are subjected to rigorous testing on the flight simulators every six months.

The wings allow airplanes to fly, not the engines. An airliner flying at 30,000 feet can glide 100 miles even with all engines out

British Airways captain Steve Allright

“We invest heavily in training – at British Airways we have a world class training facility with 14 full motion flight simulators. Commercial aircraft are also incredibly well maintained and are checked by pilots and engineers before each flight. Routine maintenance is performed at regular, specified intervals by licensed technicians.’

Should passengers be concerned if cabin lights flicker?

Captain Allright says, “No, not at all, as that is perfectly fine. This would probably just be a momentary transfer of energy from various electrical sources.’

Any additional advice for people still feeling nervous?

Captain Allright says: “We would encourage anyone who has a fear of flying to join us on British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course. We have decades of experience helping nervous passengers and in that time we have helped more than 50,000 people overcome their fear. It’s also important to remember that all of our crews are trained to assist nervous travelers so they can assist customers who may be feeling anxious on board. There is also a reassuring ‘Flying with Confidence’ video on our in-flight entertainment system on every long-haul British Airways flight.”

To book the British Airways Flying with Confidence course, visit The day usually starts around 9am and is divided into morning (technical) and afternoon (psychology) sessions, followed by a flight in a BA jet with running commentary from a course pilot from the flight deck. The course runs at London Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Dubai and Johannesburg. Courses at the latter two locations are entirely ground-based, with no flight.

Steve Allright is a regular on the Heathrow course and has been a British Airways Captain on the 757/767, 747 and now flies the 787. He has logged over 18,000 flight hours.