I love the airport. I adore the hustle and bustle, the anticipation of adventure and the wonderful sense of going someplace special and out of my everyday routine. We don’t travel very often so every time I am there I appreciate it for the extraordinary experience that it is whether I’m traveling for work or fun. There is just one little problem.
I am terrified to fly.
Every time I do fly I tell myself it will be fine. I get down the jetway with no problem because I stay focused on the destination, not the journey. I need a little shove to actually board the plane, but once on I’m usually pretty ok until the plane begins to move. Then, I freak the hell out.
I have a very specific fear about flying. I can never talk about it in an airport because I’d end up locked in a windowless room being interrogated by the TSA and land on a “no fly” list. I can never tell a flight attendant the truth on a plane because I would find myself zip tied to the seat farthest back in economy while parents whispered to their children not to make eye contact.
I am absolutely, hopelessly, irrationally convinced that in the time between the wheels of the aircraft leaving the ground and the point when the plane levels off at its highest altitude there will be an explosion like the world has never seen before. I am certain that my death will not be physically painful because it will be like a scene from Die Hard 2 (worst of the Die Hards, but that’s not relevant) when the fire hits the gas tank and the entire plane, with passengers, goes BOOM! No one ever had a chance. It will be the kind of explosion that would make John McLane himself duck and cover.
I try very hard to fight this fear, but as soon as we lift off I image the entire scenario while simultaneously praying to God to watch over my children and let them know that I loved them to my last breath. I only wish this were going on in my head with no outward sign, but I’m not that good or that lucky. I’m the one hyperventilating in 23C.
I’m the one crying, praying, Lamaze-breathing, and just generally making a shaky, soggy idiot of myself while crushing my husband’s hand at the same time.
None of this has been cause for too much mortification before, but on this last trip my husband and I jumped at the chance to upgrade our tickets at the gate to First Class. Oh, yes. We were preferred. Preferred boarding, preferred seating, preferred meal.
I felt… fancy!
Here is the trouble, though. You can’t hide in first class. In the past, in my meager little cramped coach seat, I could huddle in a corner and mask my ridiculousness. Not in first class. I was in seat 1F, directly diagonal to the flight attendants in their jump seats which, by the way, have a much more intricate and secure looking seat belt harnessing situation than the lap belt the rest of us get. I am not reassured by that at all. So, back to the freak out, front and nearly center. My husband is trying to focus me on breathing and I notice that the very sweet, well meaning flight attendant has gotten out of her jump seat (her only real chance at survival) and is kneeling in front of my seat.
Mid take off.
We are wheels up, People.
Now, a handful of things are running round my crazed brain in addition to the panic that was already there. First, I wanted to scream at her to get back in her seat. Second, I am so embarrassed. Just walked out of the bathroom with my skirt tucked into my underwear level embarrassed. Third, she can’t really help me, bless her heart. She tried to reassure me by telling me about some website that maps all flights and how it is nearly 100% accurate to avoid collisions.
Um, nearly? So there’s a slim chance the planes could collide? omg. She had only one job in that moment. Epic failure. Sit down.
But, wait. We still have to
We spent the rest of the flight with me crying over turbulence and Miss Nearly 100% trying to get me drunk because she thought my paranoia would be better controlled if I was lit out of my gourd. I politely declined.
I enjoyed my “preferred” meal and hot towel and my husband took advantage of the open bar. (“Babe, between the free bags, the meal, and the booze we are making money on this deal!”) I read a little bit and did my best to act like a reasonable adult. Seriously, let’s act like we’ve been in first class before, right?
I have since decided that if I am going to make a fool of myself on a plane I’d rather do it with more leg room and a better meal.
Fast forward an hour. The captain starts making announcements about “beginning our approach,” which really means “Hey folks, I’m going to take this metal tube, hurtling through the air at 565 miles per hour, slow her down to a cool 160 in about 10 minutes, drop two tiny rubber tires, and then set her on hard concrete and hope for the best. Pretty sure the brakes will hold up.”
No way will the brakes work. I know, deep in my heart, that once we land and are careening down the runway, the brakes will fail, the rubber on tires will be burned off, and we will crash at the end of the runway in… you guessed it. A fiery explosion.
I. am. crazy.
Needless to say, we did not crash. After he pried open my death grip and extricated himself, my husband told me it was a perfectly uneventful flight with no trouble at all. I hugged the pilot, co-pilot, Miss Nearly 100% and every breathing human I saw between the jetway and baggage claim in sheer gratitude to be alive.
As we waited at the carousel for our bags I dried my tears, tried to control my shaking and looked at my handsome husband. He grinned at me and said, “Next time we take a cruise!”
PS. My gratitude and admiration go out to all of the wonderful professionals who use their training and expertise to get us to and fro around this country and the world every day. A special thanks to the flight attendants who offer comfort in whatever way they can to travelers like me.
PPS. Thank you to my husband who holds my hand, dries my tears, and tells me I’m not crazy.