Mental Health Awareness, My Anxious Travels

A Fear-Filled Flight to Madeira | My Anxious Travels

Why hello! I have returned from my holiday to Madeira, and I have loads to catch up on! While I’m intending to write a post specifically about what we got up to on our trip, I wanted to write a little about the flight itself. Originally, I had intended to have this included in the whole holiday post, but once the words got flowing, I realised it was probably suited to a separate one so that I don’t end up boring you senseless. As I like to draw my experiences from a mental health perspective, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my thought process when it comes to something particularly anxiety provoking for me. Now, I’ll say up front, if there are any fellow sufferers of emetophobia reading, there may be a trigger or two in this post, but don’t worry, I’ll tell you in good time!

A Fear-Filled Flight to Madeira Pinterest graphic

Our flight was at a reasonable time for the first time in 2 years, so we headed off to Birmingham Airport to catch our flight at 15:25. I’d only ever flown from Bristol before, so it felt a little strange being in a different airport, especially when it came to security. I know these days security is much tighter at airports, and rightly so, but considering my husband got to saunter straight through, I clearly must have looked dodgy. In addition to being shouted at because I stood under the metal detector for too long (because there was someone in my way), they also put me in the rather scary looking body scanner and swabbed my shoes for drugs. Clearly evil carries a Cath Kidston backpack.

Now, I may have mentioned in passing before that I’m a nervous flyer. A VERY nervous flyer. While it’s partially the irrational fear that something could go wrong with the plane, it’s mainly related to my emetophobia, and my fear that I’ll be stuck next to a passenger who throws up. Of course, in the flights that I have been on, this hasn’t happened, and ultimately, the last time I’d flown I was actually starting to make my peace with it. How things can change.

For those who don’t know, emetophobia is the irrational fear of vomiting. The most common response to this is “no one likes being sick,” however in the case of someone with emetophobia, it can be highly debilitating and causes a significant impact on their day to day lives.

So, we boarded the plane, and for the first time I had a window seat instead of an aisle seat. Having the aisle seat generally feels better because I feel less trapped, however I’d started to come round to the idea of a window one because it meant I wouldn’t have to keep getting up every time the person next to us needed the loo. Anyway, I kicked back and started chilling with my magazine, convinced that I had this in the bag.

Me and Liam at the airport before our flight to Madeira. I'm smiling and looking very excited while Liam looks confused and pretty annoyed that I'm forcing to take a picture.
All smiles at the airport…or at least one of us was!

Trigger Warning: Emetophobia, or for those easily grossed out

I didn’t pay much attention when the elderly gentleman sat next to my husband and I, with his wife and friends in the seats on the other side. He sat down and started reading the paper, and I popped my headphones in to make take off a little bit less anxiety inducing. All of a sudden the man started coughing and something…came out. I instantly crapped my pants and held my magazine up to my face and turned up my music. My husband gently nudged me and told me that the chap wasn’t sick and he was just coughing, although by this point he was looking very unwell and the cabin crew had come to his aid.

I drifted in and out of what was being said but the man’s wife told the cabin crew that he had been eating a lot of sugary sweets before the flight – so perhaps it was some sort of hyperglycemic episode or something. I’m not sure, but it didn’t stop my mind from constantly asking whether or not he had some sort of bug and that this could potentially ruin our holiday if my husband and I caught it. Because of this, I continuously prodded my husband to ask for reassurance that he definitely wasn’t sick. Meanwhile, one of the flight attendants chose to ignore my teary face and shakiness, and but they had no problem asking me to remove my headphones. I get it was probably something to do regarding take off, but the last two airlines we’d flown with didn’t have an issue with it.

Anyway, I decided to be a rebel and shoved my headphones back in while the man next to us still looked rather poorly. Once we were off the ground I tried to go back to my magazine, but all of a sudden the man started coughing again. I looked up from my magazine and saw the man’s wife fumbling around with the sick bag, so I attempted to push my headphones further into my ears – I swear I would have pushed them all the way into my head if I could have – while trying to keep calm. It didn’t work. Despite having my music turned up to full volume I still heard enough to send my anxiety soaring through the roof. 

The cabin crew jumped into action once again and rushed over with the oxygen mask and hurried the chap into the toilet, while my husband asked if we could change seats. Hell, by this point I was ready to jump straight out of the fucking plane. Despite the fact I was now having a full on panic attack, all one of the flight attendants said was that we could move after take off. I again persistently prodded my husband asking various questions like “did you get splashed?” “did he get it all in the bag?” and such, but he told me that the man wasn’t sick, he was just coughing stuff up again (I’m still not entirely convinced, especially given the sounds I heard). Of course, anyone with anxiety will tell you that when you seek reassurance, 99% of the time, you can’t accept it. Your mind won’t let you. This was what happened in my case.

Eventually, they allowed us to move to another seat, where we had a whole row to ourselves, so I felt much better settling into an aisle seat. My anxiety was still at peak, but simply moving away felt so much better. I tried to get back into my magazine while aptly listening to Taylor Swift’s You Need to Calm Down, and eventually, things began to settle. Despite the occasional need for reassurance, I was feeling better. Sadly, that didn’t last long.

Suddenly a woman was moved to the seat opposite me. She was clutching a sick bag. For fuck sake.  I could not appear to catch a break on this flight. I’m not sure what was going on with her, but every now and again she’d start reading her book, which I thought was a bit weird because if you were feeling travel sick, why would you read a book on a flight? Anyway, needless to say, this was not a flight that I could relax on. I felt like a stalker because I was watching her every move. I’d feel slightly better every time I saw her open her book, but the second she closed it I was on edge. This continued for a good 3 hours. She didn’t throw up at all, but the thought that she could have was enough for me. 

When we eventually landed, I still couldn’t stop asking my husband for reassurance. “Are you SURE that man wasn’t sick?” “Do you PROMISE me he wasn’t sick?” “You wouldn’t lie to me would you?” “We won’t catch anything from him will we?” This went on well into the second day of our holiday. On the bus to our hotel, my husband had listened in a little on the woman who’d been moved next to us, and she appeared to be suffering from a migraine, and was actually a bit annoyed they’d given her a sick bag. All I can say is I’m relieved that we weren’t flying with Ryanair, as the entire situation would have been a million times worse (context: Ryanair don’t do sick bags).

Anyway, when we finally checked into our hotel, it was a good hour before I felt settled, because I felt the need to Dettol wipe EVERYTHING that had been on the plane with me. I was starving hungry, but because I was scared I’d caught something, I didn’t want to eat. Meanwhile, my husband, who has a perfectly rational brain, was starving and desperate to get some dinner. He eventually managed to drag me back out in search of some food, and I caved and had a few chips (along with a gin and tonic!) and eventually, the nerves subsided. 

Occasionally, the nerves would pop back up again every time I had to touch something that had been on the plane with us, but over the week, I stopped seeking the reassurance. Getting back on the plane for the trip home wasn’t particularly fun, but thankfully, we were sat next to a really nice man who chatted to us about gin.

While in the case of a ‘normal’ person, this probably would have been a situation with no drama whatsoever, I feel I have a few observations to make here. I’ll say right now that I don’t want to be selfish – the gentleman that was poorly 100% should have been (and was) the priority of the cabin crew, but once they had dealt with him they could have perhaps checked in on me. I’m incredibly thankful that they allowed us to move seats, however there didn’t seem to be any duty of care afterwards. I’m not saying I should have been given any special treatment, but I was clearly distressed (I was crying and shaking) and not at any point was I asked if I was alright. Admittedly, maybe I should have told them about my phobia, or simply the fact that I was a nervous flyer, but let’s face it, you can’t exactly have a “private word” with someone on a plane can you? I don’t know. Maybe if they’d known the reason why I asked to move seats  in the first place they wouldn’t have moved the second lady next to me, I don’t know.

Apologies if anyone has found this triggering. I just felt like I needed to get this all out because it was a particularly traumatic experience for me and I knew I wanted to share it just to give an insight into what it’s like being in my mind! Stay tuned and I’ll be posting about my trip to Madeira – which thankfully, wasn’t as traumatic as this flight!

23 thoughts on “A Fear-Filled Flight to Madeira | My Anxious Travels”

  1. Oh gosh this sounds like such a testing flight but I’m glad you enjoyed your holiday regardless. I’ve never been diagnosed with emetophobia but I feel like I have some form or at least a little fear/anxiety towards sick so I can completely understand how you feel! It’s horrible when people don’t really understand either, I feel like you definitely should have been asked if you were okay!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I think it’s a lot more common than people think and you often get “well no one likes being sick” as a response which is one of the reasons I didn’t say anything! Thank you for commenting 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you managed to get there in one piece. It sounds like you had quite the journey and as a nervous flyer, I can relate. I don’t have a fear of being sick but I certainly don’t like it very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I feel it gave me a bit of a setback when I got there because I got the Dettol wipes out but I think two years ago I probably would have handled things a whole lot worse so I’m trying to focus on the fact that I did it and that’s what matters!


  3. I’m glad that you managed to get home okay ❤ this sounds like a horrible experience. Reading it I was wondering why the gentleman wasn't removed from the plane as if he was unwell/possibly suffering from a hyperglycemic episode it doesn't sound like he was really fit and safe to fly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks lovely ❤️ Yeah I know as discussing it with my mum and she said the exact same thing! I’m assuming because the second episode thing was slap bang in the middle of take off maybe it was too late to remove him or something (I’m not even sure what he is he procedure would be I have no clue about air travel 😂), but even so he didn’t look well at all even before we took off! We saw him at the baggage claim and he looked a lot better thankfully so maybe it was just a funny turn or something. Thank you for reading x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I would have been exactly the same, wow – I’m glad you were able to enjoy your holiday though and will look forward to reading about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my god that sounds horrific 😫 I’m so sorry you had to experience that 😔 I almost didn’t get on our plane home from Spain as had a huge panic attack that morning – eventually I made it and checked the bag in 3 minutes before it closed 🙈 Very glad you made it home okay and still managed to enjoy your holiday 💛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 😊 Oh no that’s not good! 😫 Anxiety always means we end up cutting it fine doesn’t it?! 🙈 But glad you managed to make it home okay and hope the flight wasn’t too bad once you were on! Did you have a good holiday?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh my! I could SO relate to this! Every single cough or clearing of a throat gets my attention on a plane. I over-analyze everything: did that person order ginger ale? Did that person grab the catalog or the sick bag from the seat-back? I actually quite prefer the window seat so I can try to crawl into the opening between the window and the seat if needed. Lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my god I feel you! I’m exactly the same on planes – and the fact Ryanair don’t actually provide sick bags genuinely makes me anxious! I think for me it’s the fact there isn’t really anywhere to run – like if you were on a bus you could get them to pull over, a train you could move to the next carriage, but a plane you’re stuck! Thank you for reading and I’m glad I’m not alone in this! xx


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s