Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fear of Flying - Redux

First posted 07/07

I don't like to fly, but I have two children; one lives in the midwest and one lives on the east coast, and since I live between them, I have no choice. I must overcome my fear of flying if I want to see my kids.

So, I fly. But each time I do, something happens that makes me very anxious. It's always nothing, but I make it into something in my mind, so that by the time I get on the plane I'm out of control with fear. I never show it, though. If you saw me get on a plane you'd think I was just an ordinary person doing what thousands of ordinary people do everyday. But inside, my heart is pounding and I'm a mess.

Here's what happened the last time I went to see my daughter.
I arrived two hours early for my 7AM flight, just like the Department of Homeland Security has advised us to do. Around 6:45 the gate person announced the flight would be delayed for two hours due to mechanical difficulties. I hate it when they tell me that. When they say mechanical difficulties I immediately begin to imagine an engine falling off because an under-paid and over-worked mechanic didn't tighten one screw. Or, the door latch isn't working properly and the door will explode open when we reach cruising altitude immediately sucking out anything and anyone not properly secured.

Of course in my smart mind, I'm hoping it's a broken wheel on the beverage cart, or the toilet is clogged, but it's never that easy in my irrational mind, which takes on a life of it's own, and I can't control the thoughts that form there.

About an hour later we're told the plane actually hasn't even arrived yet because the difficulties happened at another city and our delay would now be another hour. Great, another hour for my mind to imagine all sorts of disasters due to mechanical difficulties. Finally the plane did arrive and unfortunately since I was facing the window, I caught a quick glimpse of it, two propellers and all. Then there was another one hour delay for the "part" to arrive and be cart wheel, I'm hoping.

At 11AM the gate person said we could board the plane. With all the serious worrying I was doing, I hadn't noticed there were only about 20 people sitting around me waiting to get on my plane. When we boarded, we left the waiting area, walked down the enclosed boarding ramp and out onto the tarmac! I hate it when I have to board a plane that way. I hate to see the plane from the outside. If I only see the inside I can pretend I'm on a bus, but when I've seen it from the outside, two propellers and all, there's no chance of erasing that image from my irrational mind. I reached the stairway of the plane and saw that one propeller was being held in place by a bungee cord attached to the railing of the stairs to the plane. Doesn't that sound sort of crude to you? I mean, come on people, we're in the 21st century here, surely they have ways to keep propellers still with something more high-tech than a bungee cord? Were they afraid it would begin spinning on its own and take off, my mind wondered? See? These are the kinds of thoughts I can't control.

Anyway, I got on the very small plane and found my seat, directly across from the flight attendant. This was a good sign, I thought. I always look to the crew when I panic. They continue to be busy and nonchalant during each bump or strange sound. The flight attendant did the usual "in the case of an emergency" talk and then turned to me and the person sitting across from me and said, "You two are in the emergency seats and will be able to help me if I need you, right?" I didn't realize I was assigned that seat and would never have volunteered for it. I didn't want to make a fuss, because we had waited four hours just to get on the plane, so I kept quiet. We both nodded yes we would help, but my irrational mind was thinking, ah-huh, when hell freezes over.

Anyway, here's the big finish. All our seat belts were properly secured (the bungees were off and the propellers were spinning about two feet from my head outside my window) and we began taxiing down the runway.

It's about here in all my flights when I shut my eyes and pretend to be at peace. Ha! I'm really counting to 300 because I've found that's the number when the take off feeling is over and the plane begins to level off. It was a bumpy take off and I opened one eye to get that visual image of the cool, calm and collected flight attendant so I could get this plane and me off the ground without having a complete breakdown.

But what did I see? I was knee to knee with her (small plane, remember?) and saw that she had grabbed the sides of her seat with both hands. Her eyes were so tightly closed that her face was crunched up and she appeared to be praying! Yeah, praying! Okay sure, she probably wasn't praying and we made it to LaGuardia just fine, but I practically had to fly the plane myself (in my mind, but it's almost the same) because clearly I wasn't getting any help from the flight attendant who never left her seat or looked up from the book she was reading, except when she got on the intercom to tell us she wouldn't be leaving her seat to serve us anything due to the turbulence expected for the entire trip. Amen and Amen.

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