Sometimes during a flight there is this tense moment when you feel the fingernails of the person sitting beside you digging into the skin of your forearm lying on the armrest.
By then you begin to regret fighting for it as the nails penetrate deeper and deeper with every bump and shake of the airplane, which is hurling through the air at more than 30,000 feet. You can’t help but look over and smile or laugh at your friend, lover or family member. Why is that?
Because you are the frequent flyer, the one who falls asleep well before take-off, or quite possibly you are the crazy one who actually enjoys flying. Better yet, you are the Know-it-All who attempts to use science in an effort to comfort.
“You’re fine, the plane was built to withstand hurricane-force winds,” you say, with a gentle pat on the arm.
Well, I’m not any of those flying types. And I don’t care how the plane was built, especially when I’m not in control of it.
More than likely, I’m hoping the pilots didn’t fall asleep in the cock-pit and then I stare outside the window wondering what it will feel like to crash. Please, Lord, let it be quick.
I’m the anxious flyer. And the second the airplane hits turbulence, my hand is grabbing that armrest – or your arm – while the other is tightening the seat-belt. I’m sitting there with a blank stare waiting for seat-belt light to turn on and the plane to drop a hundred stories like the elevator in Tower of Terror.
Astonishingly enough, this full-blown panic attack did not erupt from one simple bump in the air. I didn’t always used to be this way. I actually used to be that bouncy little kid who couldn’t wait to get on an airplane because I thought it was the
coolest thing ever.
I genuinely enjoyed those little bumps in the air and those fluffy, white clouds, oh boy, did I love flying through them (well, not anymore!!). Thank goodness I went to Maui in 5th grade because now, I couldn’t imagine flying nearly six hours over the open sea without fearing an ocean-landing.
flickr photo by colleen lane
I won’t shy over the fact that 9/11 had an incredible impact on this fear of flying. Being so young when the terrorists overtook those planes and flew into the World Trade Center hit me at a very vulnerable stage in my life.
Afterward all the safety measures that were enforced only made me think more and more about the possibilities that it could happen again. Having to pack the liquids that could be used to create an explosive mixture of chemicals or people hiding bombs in shoes, it’s no wonder that my mind and heart would be racing before I even stepped onto an airplane.
But above this fear of terrorism, is my fear of the unpredictable force of Mother Nature. Before every flight I check the weather – sometimes more than a week in advance of departure – of my state and my destination.
I have to know what I’m throwing myself into because for some reason, not knowing is worse. I will go so far as to check the turbulence reports as well. However, no matter what the weather is in Arizona, I’ve come to expect bumpy take-offs and landings because of the surrounding mountain ranges. But don’t even ask me how it is during monsoon season. I’m surprised I haven’t experienced a heart attack yet.
flickr photo by kait jarbeau
On a flight back from Indiana my plane hit an unexpected air-pocket and dropped a significant amount. Everyone around me took the crash position. The pilot came over the intercom after landing and even expressed his shock over the sudden elevation change.
Heading home from South Carolina after a plane-change in Philadelphia, my pilot despite all the obvious wrong reasons, decided to follow a massive storm system that reached across the entire United States at the time. How did I know this? I was lucky enough to have been on a plane equipped with wi-fi and I used a flight tracking site to follow my plane’s route. To this day, I have no idea how the guy beside me was able to sleep through all the bumping back-and-forth our plane was doing for the five hour flight.
During an international flight to Argentina, the route took us along the ridge of the Andes mountains. Living in a state with quite a few mountains, I know that the wind just flows all up and down them and creates a torrent of currents. Our plane somehow managed to hit all of them and rocked back-and-forth down South America before landing in Buenos Aires.
My most recent trip to New York City for the first time was rather memorable. What sticks in my mind even more is how every flight before and after ours was seemingly canceled or delayed, but mine.
This had happened to me before. I had an early flight leaving the Mid-West, and I saw lightning striking on the horizon as I pulled up to the drop-off curb. I wondered why we were still taking off and got to watch the sheets of pouring rain from my window seat every time the wing’s lights flashed.
Back to my New York take-off. I was sitting near my gate, which had become overcrowded with others who were attempting to squeeze onto my already full flight after theirs were canceled.
Throughout the morning, I could see hovering grey clouds while doing some last-minute exploring of Chinatown. It had of course grown worse and I was wondering why we would be taking off in this storm. In my head I was repeating to myself that planes don’t fly if there is a danger, but deep down I just assume that the airline companies want to have good records and maintain their reputations, so they’ll take-off no matter what.
Somehow I made it to my seat. Somehow the plane pulled out of the gate. Somehow the flight took off. And how predictable. The plane was bouncing all over the place to the point that the pilot had to come over the microphone and tell everyone to remain seated, including the flight attendants. That’s when you know it’s serious. We’ve all seen flight attendants standing during some casual turbulence, but when they have to sit down themselves and clasp their belts together, it’s rough!! After many hours, I made it home safely and haven’t been on a flight since. Not because of my bad flight, though. I’m saving up for my next trip, which will have to involve an airplane.
Flying is a love-hate relationship for me. I love it because it is an experience and I find ways to enjoy most experiences in life. It also gets me places much faster. And I have to remind myself that it is safer than driving. But I hate it because of all the reasons mentioned above: weather, turbulence, news reports of planes failing inspections and how the strains of the economy are impacting airline companies services and standards. However, until teleportation becomes a reality, I’ll be sitting in my window seat, gripping the armrest with every bump.