Fear of Flying

It’s not really a fear of flying.  It’s a fear of crashing.  At maximum takeoff weight, a jetliner can weigh up to 750,000 pounds, and the only things keeping it in the air are two thin pieces of aluminum and the theory of aerodynamics.  Somehow the idea of ending my life in a ball of fire and twisted metal with my arms and legs and entrails spewed all over the side of a mountain gets into my already over active imagination and does its worst. 

Of course, the worst part wouldn’t be the crash itself.  Chances are I wouldn’t even feel a thing.  It’s the anticipation that would be so awful.  The airlplane hurtling out of control.  The engines screaming.  The passengers sreaming.  G forces crushing you against your seat.  And worst of all, you have several long seconds, maybe even minutes, to be truly, truly terrified at the horrible death that you will soon be experiencing.

Yup, that’s me.  Steve Smith: afraid–no, make that terrified–to fly. 

By now my family has gotten used to the unpleasant change in my personality the day before I have to fly and they just stay the hell away from me.  The night before I fly I always have one of two recurring nightmares.  One is where the plane is jockeying down the highway, dodging cars and trying to find an opportune time to take off.  Once it does, it always attempts to fly under a bridge, but I always wake up just before the plane hits the bridge.  In the other dream, I am sitting on TOP of the plane as it’s cruising at 37,000 feet, desperately looking for something to hang on to.  It’s always one or the other, and to this day I have no way of knowing which one it will be, or why.

But I do not let my fear of flying prevent me from flying.  I would simply miss out on too much.  And, if the truth be told, I’ve gotten better about this as I’ve gotten older.  Now I’m only afraid of the takeoffs and landings.  The bit in between I’ve more or less learned to be ok with.  Usually.

Not this time.  For some reason, the plane hit an unusual amount of turbulence soon after takeoff and for the next hour I sat clutching the arms of my seat.  I did notice that none of the other passengers seemed terribly concerned about the extreme danger they were in, but I attributed this to the fact that they were simply too stupid to realize that they were all about to die the aforementioned fiery death.  As the plane bounced around the airpockets like a ping pong ball in a lottery machine, my mind was simply singing with fear.

Then a happy thought found its way into my terror stricken brain: alcohol.  They don’t serve Bushmill’s on Jet Blue, sadly.  But desperate situations call for drastic measures, so I settled for Glenlivet.  The flight attendant also seemed blissfully ignorant of our shared peril.  He beamed a perfect toothpaste commercial smile at me as he brought my drink.  “Does this happen a lot?”, I asked.  “Oh, sure, just some turbulence.  Nothing to worry about.  Happens all the time”.  Another megawatt smile, followed by a curiously knowing look. “I’ll keep your tab open.  We’ll settle up just before we land.” 

By the fifth Glenlivet, I noticed that the pilot’s flying skills had improved considerably, and the airplane was cruising along quite nicely now, thank you very much.  I had Thomas Tallis on the headphones, and Arthur Conan Doyle in my hands, and a newfound serenity about flying.  I think I’m on to something here.

While Googling for pictures for this post, I came upon this rather interesting article, which in fact puts the whole fear of flying thing into perspective.  I agree with almost everything the author writes. 

Except for the part about alcohol.  Maybe they’ll even serve Bushmill’s on the next flight.


10 Responses to “Fear of Flying”

  1. 1 Red
    June 3, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    That picture is classic.

    Yeah, I was pretty pleased with that one myself. Little bastard. 😈

    I fear flying. I fear crashing. I fear everything about boarding a plane and going somewhere. In the air.

    Yet another thing we have in common. 🙂

    As a child, I was made to fly because we moved around so much. I absolutely loathed it, and even made a few flights by myself. On small puddle jumpers that didn’t hold more than 15 people. SCARY.

    Ooooh, you’re right! Those are the worst. 😦

    As an adult? I won’t get on a plane. I’ll drive. I’ll walk. No planes, thank you. There isn’t enough Xanax and tequila to get my happy ass on a plane.

    Somehow the thought of plying you with Tequila conjures up some very interesting ideas in my imagination. 😈

  2. June 4, 2008 at 9:07 am

    It’s not the actual flying that perturbs me, or even the fall. It’s the sudden stop at the bottom worries me the most

    Well, look at it this way: airliners generally cruise at an altitude of 37,000 feet, so if it goes down, for the first 36,999 feet you have nothing to worry about. 😉

  3. June 4, 2008 at 11:10 am

    It was a good article. But I agree with you. I would not get on a plane without alcohol and drugs. That’s how I flew to Florida 23 years ago (last time I was on a plane). I think I’ll just agree with Red. I doubt I would even get on a plane again.

    Alcohol certainly makes the flight a lot more tolerable, at least for me. But as I said elsewhere, I won’t let my fear of flying prevent me from flying. Part of it is a “face your fear” kind of thing. And as I also said, I would simply miss to much. So I just suck it up, get a little inebriated, and take it from there.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  4. 4 Sam
    June 4, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Here’s a shocking fact from a 30-something in 2008… I’ve never flown. In fact the only plane I’ve ever been on was Elvis Presley’s in Graceland; and it was chained to the ground. I’ve never been afraid to fly, just growing much more cautious in my oldening age. If I don’t have to, I’d rather avoid the horrible nightmares you seem to be dealing with. (Sorry to ramble about myself. Felt it was relevant.)

    Your thoughts are always relevant and welcome on this blog. 😉 As far as never flying, that’s a personal decision. I know others who will drive hundreds of miles rather than fly. For me, I just suck it up and deal with it; I’d miss too much otherwise.

    Thanks for stopping by, Sam!


  5. June 5, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Sorry about your fear. I am an adrenalin junkie and love to fly. I crave the turbulence and anticipate the landing with glee.

    My blood pressure is going up just reading this. 😉

    Mr. J on the other hand needs to be tranquilized before boarding. He would be tipping back the drinks as fast as they are willing to bring them.

    I’m with Mr. J on this one.

    I hope you have a fantastically boring flight.

    As it turn out, the return flight sucked even more than the flight out, but that’s a subject for another post.

  6. June 5, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    It’s cool that Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying was listed by WordPress as a possibly related post.

    I saw that, but it seems to have disappeared. Strange.

  7. June 7, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I used to love flying, mostly because flying meant seeing my English grandparents.
    I worked for the best (my personal opinion and highly biased) for 10 years and flew many times. I loved flying because flying meant discovering new places or seeing my boyfriend.
    Then SR 111 crashed off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
    Since then like you, I’m horrified of flying.
    And like you, I suffer through it, because flying still means seeing people I love.
    Nice post. You ‘stole’ mine 😉 .

    You flatter me.

    So you used to be a flight attendant? I’ll bet you looked so cute in that little stewardess outfit. 😈

    It’s nice to see from the responses to this post that I’m not the only who suffers from this phobia.

  8. June 15, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Actually, I to set the record straight, I was a pilot. 😉

    A pilot named “Spaz”? Now there’s a rather disquieting thought.

    I hope you’ll pardon the the unintentional sexism of my previous response. Heck, I’ll bet you looked even hotter in a pilot’s uniform! 😈 {Smith ducks and runs for cover}

  9. June 26, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    I used to love to fly.
    That changed as I got older. Along with other things.
    Now I, too, find that the only way to fly is intoxicated.

    Hope you had a great trip.

  10. July 8, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    @ krkbaker. Oops! This one got by me somehow. Thanks for stopping by. Nice to see I’m not the only one with this phobia.


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