Radio Personality Michael
Radio Personality Michael "Wippa" Wipfli hates flying, but he’s trying to overcome his fear. Picture: John Appleyard

Radio star’s horror in-flight encounter with listener

I'LL let you in on something I've figured out, if you step on to an aeroplane expecting the worst, you're basically saying you know more than the airline, the pilot and the manufacturer.

Now, unless you're literally a rocket scientist, or the first ever engineer for Boeing, I would suggest you don't. Having said that, knowing you're in safe hands is not always the silver bullet to curing your fear of flying.

Imagine being on a three-hour flight from Queenstown to Sydney, drinking lots of red wine topped with sleeping pills for dessert, then vomiting everywhere on landing. You don't want to be that guy.

I was.

The moment was only made worse when the bloke sitting in front of me happened to be a Nova listener. I saw him walk on to the plane wearing a sharp Ralph Lauren sports coat but by the time he stepped off it looked more like an Ed Hardy limited edition - a one off design. I had covered it and to be fair, the colours were amazing. He later sent me the dry clearing bill for $28.50, which I paid along with a couple of Taylor Swift concert tickets. I think he still tunes in.

But you don't ever have to be 'that guy'.

While his co star Fitzy might think it’s hilarious, Wippa’s fear of flying took a bad turn when he actually threw up on another passenger. Picture: Nova
While his co star Fitzy might think it’s hilarious, Wippa’s fear of flying took a bad turn when he actually threw up on another passenger. Picture: Nova

That was the lowest of the lows and the wakeup call I really need to take control. You could argue that it's a phobia, concocted though a kaleidoscope of images and headlines reading: "The plane just dropped". (You know the type of stories people love to sensationalise).

But is it an irrational fear? Or is it perfectly rational to ask why I should be relaxed at 40,000ft, in an aluminium tube banging along 1000km/h? Trust me, it's a perfectly fair phobia.

So next move, the great people of Qantas thought I should do the 'Fear of Flying' course. If knowledge is power then this course has it covered. You speak with captains, learn weather patterns, experience simulators, and you're made to feel normal.

I was interested to see what demographic would attend a course like this and the good news is, everyone. Old, young, men, women, nerds, a footballer, a bikie, the list goes on. There was a miner in the course who worked in a 'fly-in, fly-out' capacity, he was so embarrassed by the fear he pretended to be hung over every time he stepped on to the plane to avoid anyone asking question about the pale complexion and sweaty palms. "The bloody bourbons have got me again, you'd think I would have learnt!"

What was interesting was the differing degrees and diversity of fears. Although it was a flying-specific course, concerns ranged from anxiety, claustrophobia, heights, control and even sharks. One woman refused to fly over water in case the plane went down and they she was eaten by a shark. That's called a bad day (and I think the fear of sharks course was two doors down on the left). Another guy was unable to travel through road-tunnels, so even a getting to the airport a challenge for that poor guy. It was stressful, and it was hard work.

The course ends with a graduation flight to Melbourne for lunch - a full day of fear. The reactions varied; in a class of 20, two couldn't step on to the air bridge, a further two stopped at the plane door then turned around. Three did manage to sit down, but then panic set in and they abandoned-ship (and missed out on the Buffett at Crown). You may call that a failure, but for them just stepping on to the plane was a giant leap forward.

For me it was a reasonably calm flight and we made it to Melbourne without too many challenges.


The good news was short-lived. Out of pure coincidence our biggest challenge was yet to come. That weekend in Melbourne was the F1 Grand Prix which included a pre-race fly-by from the Roulettes (an aerobatic display), which was about to take place.

This was just before we took off. I can only assume the tower instructed our captain to "get up and get out of the way" because takeoff to 'seat belt sign off' took 45 seconds. The remaining 13 flyers were pinned to their seats; head back, mouth open, like they'd just stepped on to the graviton ride at the Easter show.

The plane levelled out and the flight continued as normal. We landed safety and the day was done. Later that evening I wrote to Neil Armstrong and cc'd Buzz Aldrin (he's used to that) just to compare notes. Three great aviation heroes.

Dealing with a fear of flying is all too consuming; you book a flight based on the aircraft type, the seat selection (aisle please), availability, time of day and weather forecast. The week prior your mind is already on the day; hello anxiety-filled sleepless nights, constant weather checks and the hope there'll be no "breaking aviation news". You go through all of this fully aware the average person is sitting down, turning off their phone, reclining their seat and enjoying their journey. It's beyond frustrating.

To say out loud, "I have a fear of flying" is often met with a face akin to your announcing Kanye would make a good President in 2020.

I always fly Qantas, because its experience, service and safety reassures me. Whenever I step on-board I'll introduce myself to the staff and let them know I'm not 100 per cent comfortable, they completely understand and also know where I'll be sitting/where to bring the red wine (hold the sleeping pills).

Today I fly with a level of aviation knowledge that allows to sit comfortably on board; I remind myself that if I really thought there was an issue I wouldn't be boarding the plane. If you do see me on a flight come and say hello, but if I'm already Ed Hardy, move seats immediately.

VOTE NOW: Put forward your public memorial suggestion

Premium Content VOTE NOW: Put forward your public memorial suggestion

Should the women of Bundaberg be immortalised with public memorials? If so, who?...

Replay: Final day of U16 cricket champs - Flares vs Embers

Premium Content Replay: Final day of U16 cricket champs - Flares vs Embers

Queensland’s best under 16 cricketers finish with a thriller

Why Sea Shepherd is relaunching Hervey Bay chapter

Premium Content Why Sea Shepherd is relaunching Hervey Bay chapter

Sea Shepherd is hosting a special event in Queensland’s whale capital. Here’s how...