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.