fear of flying

I am not sure many people know this, but I am absolutely terrified of flying. I think the fear developed right after TWA Flight 800 crashed off the south shore of Long Island in ’96. The image of Newsday’s front cover with the mangled plane still kind of haunts me, and was one of the first moments in my eight young years I realized that we humans are vulnerable to tragedy.

I’ve never had a really bad experience flying, and fly often enough that I’m not a total newb. Oddly (and luckily) my fear doesn’t stop me from getting on a plane, either. But after taking four flights over the long weekend, I realized the thoughts that go through my head are pretty crazy. SO, I would like to invite you into my fear-induced brain, if just for a few moments. And maybe I’ll learn that I’m not alone? 

(side note: I am completely aware that my thoughts are irrational and that flying is extremely, extremely safe.)

Things that scare the crap out of me. 

The noises.  I interpret every noise to be one that means “something’s wrong.” I have also decided that due to my flying once every few months, I can understand a plane’s erratic beeping and moaning better than any flight attendant or pilot. And when I’m sitting in the back and I hear something “suspicious,” I can only assume the pilot up front can’t hear it, and it’s up to me to tell him and save everybody’s life.

Flying through clouds. If we’re so advanced that we can get a machine that weighs hundreds of thousands of pounds to just float in the air, clearly we can find a way to avoid the stupid rain clouds that make the ride super bumpy and induce severe panic.

Turbulence. I don’t care that turbulence is a “comfort issue, not a safety issue,” because something feels really abnormal when you’re high in the sky and the plane is bouncing around.

The seatbelt sign. When that stupid seatbelt sign turns on, I want to vomit. What’s even worse is when the sign is on and then is blinked on again. (Clearly this is a plane malfunction, which means only one thing: We’re going down.)

Circling before landing or extended taxi’ing before takeoff. Wasting precious fuel. We could run out!

Things that make me feel better.

Abnormally happy flight attendants. There’s nothing more comforting than a super happy flight attendant who is smiling down the aisle in heels and serving drinks during turbulence. I study their faces to a scary degree, trying to sense any glimpse of discomfort or worry. And I never find it.

People who read newspapers. Are you that dude who continues to read his newspaper while the plane is shaking like crazy? HOW do you do it? And can you show me how, too?

Drugs and alcohol. Together, preferably. I find one Valium and two gin and soda’s usually does the trick, though I prefer flying sober so I don’t feel super groggy and out of it when (and IF) I land.

My mentors. Poor souls who get to sit next to me. I make fast friends, usually warning people ahead of time that I may very well grab their arm or ask them to strike up a conversation with me. On a quick flight from Chicago to Milwaukee, we flew through a storm (WHY) and after a few “fun” drops and shakes, the guy next to me could see I was shaking uncontrollably and decided to tell me all about his favorite players on the Packers. Another dude on my way back kept calling me Natalie for “jokes” because apparently I look like Natalie Dormer, and then proceeded to tell me how he was in a plane crash when was eight. (He did not pass the “good mentor” test.) 

Getting a good photo. If I’m going to have a full-fledged panic attack on the plane, might as well get some pretty photos out of it. Here’s one on my way to Oregon, and another from Costa Rica. 

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About Laura

marketing director at Possible. formerly at Greatist. Still running, finding zen, and searching for the perfect bloody mary.

Posted on September 3, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Oh girl, I can totally relate to this! Feel the same way 100%. On my last flight (to Buffalo, only an hour or so but usually pretty bumpy, smaller planes + wind) I was sitting next to an off-duty pilot and basically he saw I was almost hyperventilating and talked to me the whole time about how the turbulence was “normal”, etc. It was pretty helpful at the time! Also I find pretending to be one of those people who can still read the paper or a book when it gets rough helps too. Fake it till you make it? Safe travels 🙂

    • Ahh, I wish I could sit next to an off-duty pilot! I actually saw one a few rows ahead of me and almost went up to talk to him…

      Gonna try the ‘fake it till I make it’ tactic..safe travels to you, too (:

  2. Sitting here at the kitchen table, this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read! And I agree 1000% with everything you’ve written. Next time I fly, I’ll read it again to see if I’m still laughing….

    Feeling responsible for everything that goes on in flight is something I’ve been dealing with forever, like if I doze off for a few minutes, that’s it folks!

    Also, I wish they’d just keep the seatbelt light on during the whole flight – one less thing to worry about. Every time that light goes off, you know it’s just a matter of moments until you hear that bell and it’s on again, and the time in between is not relaxing 😦

    Truly, Laura, this piece is a gem. You should submit it to lives@nytimes.com !

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