22 October 2004

Up, Up, and Away

I'm a nervous flier. And of all the understatements in my collection, it seems that "I'm a nervous flier" and "I don't like heights" are the two that come closest to actually leaving the area of truthfulness simply by being so far from accurately describing my feelings. Here are more accurate statements: I am a terrified flier and a complete ninny about heights.

I mention this because I'm getting on a plane today. I'm flying from Dulles to Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. My pal, Linda, will meet me in Hartford and then she, her pal, Julie, and I will drive tomorrow morning to Portland, Maine, where we will sing a lot of G&S with a larger bunch of our pals. So I'm looking forward to every moment of the weekend, except for the two hours I'll be spending in the air.

I can say with a certain amount of pride that although I am a nervous flier, if flying is how to get somewhere, I get on the plane. I've been to France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, England, California, and St. Louis in the past few years. I've flown with friends, I've flown alone. The flights to and from Australia and New Zealand, by the way, are 11 - 15 hours over open water, my least favorite.

So, in order to cope, I have a kind of routine for flying. Some people might compare all this to the first signs of OCD or maybe dementia, but it gets me through, so I do it.

1. I never wear meltable clothes on a plane or high heels. If I have to leave in a hurry, I want to able to wear my shoes and I don't want nasty, disfiguring burns to complicate the process.

2. I tell every member of the cabin staff that I encounter that I am a nervous flier. I sometimes ask for a drink of water just so I'll have something to do.

3. When I get to my seat, I count the rows to the exits, I read the entire safety card, even though I know it by heart, and I listen to the entire safety speech, even though I could recite it along with the staff. If Johnny Depp wanted my phone number, I'd shush him during the safety lecture.

4. If they are strangers, I tell my seatmates that I'm a nervous flier, so that if I grab their hands during the flight, they'll know why. (I have done this. Once I stop hyperventilating, I let go and apologize, but still....)

5. Just before and during take-off, I pray. Really and truly pray.

6. If we hit even the tiniest air pocket, I do two things - claw the upholstery of the seat in front of me in panic and then look around for a member of the cabin staff. A kindly stranger once pointed out that if we were in trouble, the cabin staff wouldn't be smiling and pouring hot coffee. Best advice I ever got. Makes much more sense than statistics to me. The cabin staff might smille through any disaster, but the coffee pouring would definitely stop. And they'd go strap themselves in. Cabin staff members leaning casually against galley walls and chatting are a very comforting sight to me. Not comforting enough, but I take what I can get.

People have suggested sleeping pills - I have real trouble sleeping on planes because going to sleep involves sitting quietly with my eyes closed, which only allows me to more accutely feel the plane jiggling - but I reject that idea because if there's a problem, I'd like to be able to get out on my own. Just hop up and leave. Not as likely if I've drugged myself into a stupor. Valium sounds like a better plan because it just takes the edge off, lowers things from terrified to afraid, but I have enough people in my family with addictive personalities that I'm not anxious to introduce anything habit forming into my life.

I bring a book and read, trying to block out any sensory input that indicates that I'm on a plane. I hum sometimes, just to make a little white noise.

When I talk about my fear of flying I lean on the more amusing aspects of how demented I get. Several folks have said they'd like to fly with me just to watch the process. And the friends who have flown with me - the ones who didn't get their arms clawed off - have funny stories to tell about me on planes. My mother and I were a source of great amusement to the cabin staff on the way to St. Louis. Mom hasn't flown for years and loves it so even though she is clear on how nervous I am - and even though the lady in the seat behind us was ***even more scared than me*** - Mom was happily yodeling things like "Here we go!!" and other comments focusing on stuff which that other lady and I were trying very hard not to think about. I think it was my through-gritted-teeth request that Mom "be joyful more quietly" that earned me the free Bloody Mary.

So wish me luck. And wave if you see an Independence Air flight go overhead. If I can pry my fingers loose from the armrests, I'll wave back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hate flying also. Which is weird because I was a jet engine mechanic for ten years. The reason I hate flying is that when a plane breaks down it crashes into the earth unlike when a bus breaks down it just pulls over to the side of the road. Would much rather just pull over or in the case of a train glide to stop. This whole idea of slamming into the earth because some part wore out just bothers me.

I heard a comedian retell a story of being on an airplane with an engine out and having another passenger comment to him "How far do you think we can get on one engine?" to which he replied "All the way to the crash site and I bet we beat the paramedics by twenty minutes."

That pretty much sums up why I don't like to fly.