Thursday, July 22, 2010
Fear Takes Flight
I’m not an easy flyer; one of those people who breezes through airports as if they’re at the park and then makes best friends with the rabbi sitting next to them while airborne. No matter how many hours I’ve logged as a Delta flyer, I’m still frightened to death of the friendly skies. I’ll always be one of those nervous cat-like passengers who anxiously claws the vinyl seats and has a panic attack, screaming “we’re going DOWN,” with every instance of turbulence. This embarrasses my husband and children to no end. Yes, I know that I’m 18 times more likely to die by eel electrocution than in a plane crash, or that more people die every year in dry cleaning accidents. But that just doesn’t help.
Take off is the worst part. When I’m flying alone, it takes everything in me to refrain from asking the stranger next to me to hold my hand. Once I asked a retired book store owner, turned protester if I could hold his hand …just for a minute until we got to cruising altitude. He responded by asking if I’d accompany him into the restroom, just for a minute, to activate his Mile High Club membership. I politely declined citing religious, marital status and claustrophobia reasons.
Currently, I’m trapped on a flight from Atlanta to San Jose, CA. Assuming the pilot knows the way, it should be a 4 hour and 18 minute exercise in maintaining my surface composure, while mentally cataloging every catastrophic scenario in air travel since Orville and Wilbur left Kitty Hawk. I recall the Air Egypt Flight that crashed a decade ago, because the pilot decided, in midair, that life wasn’t worth living for him…or anyone else on board. He should’ve at least taken a poll before aiming the throttle downward.
I wonder how mentally stable our pilot is. What if he’s a volatile meth addict who just got into a huge fight with his pole dancing girlfriend at the Houlihans’s bar? What if he decides to make her sorry for even mentioning his receding hairline? What if the pilot and co-pilot (who looks an awful lot like Kareem Abdul Jabar) both ate tainted fish for dinner and begin violently throwing up, drooling and wetting themselves and there’s no one left to fly the plane except a shell shocked Vietnam veteran passenger?
From my window seat, I have an up close and personal view of the left wing. I strain my eyes to see if the bolts and welds appear tight. What if I noticed that the wing was coming loose? Should I casually reach up and press the flight attendant button to notify Miffsy that we’ll be flying in circles for a few minutes before we land with a much heavier thud than usual. Neither the passenger safety card nor the Sky Mall catalog give instructions on what to do in the case of wing detachment. The inflatable slide looks kind of fun, though.
I peer out the window again. No signs of breakage or instability. But any minute a flock of Canadian geese or Norwegian pterodactyls could fly into one of the engines, clogging it up and causing us to plummet to the ground in a fiery crash. Andrew and Jack sit beside me, both happily enthralled in a game of Mario Bros. My husband James is snoozing across the aisle. His mouth gaping open makes him look like a stroke victim. The wife of the Eastern European couple next to him is quietly making fun of the snoring American. We suddenly hit an air pocket. The plane jolts, causing me to wish I’d worn a diaper.
Our seats are in the tail section, where they put families with sugared up children, people wearing turbans and those who had chili for lunch. This flight has a high concentration of foreigners. Ahead of me, a father and son talk about soccer in a variation of English that involves lots of slurring, spitting and lip smacking. Their laptop screen looks as if it’s being rained on. The man directly in front of me, an obese 60-something of Greek or Turkish decent has his seat reclined as far back as possible. Another inch and we could play “dentist.”
As Andrew questions the flight attendant about how many pretzels come in a bag…3 or 5, the captain comes over the intercom and tells us that we’re heading into a thunderstorm and things may get bouncy. “Bouncy” he says as if he’s describing his girlfriend’s new breast implants. We’ll need to fasten our seatbelts, the flight attendants too. What I hear is “Okay, people. This is it. Time to panic.” I look over at James….still snoring. My heart beats out of my chest like in old Tom and Jerry cartoons. I grip the armrests with white knuckles. Other passengers are still reading their magazines, sipping $10 beverages and having lively conversations. I have a flashback of my mom telling my fourth grade teacher, “Angela’s always been high strung.”
Another hour has passed. Miraculously, we’re all still alive and close to landing. I can see the San Mateo Bridge and the night lights of the Bay Area beneath us. Things are looking optimistic. We just may survive after all.
I swear, next time I’m getting that Valium prescription filled.