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Fear of Flying

New-York_plane_682_499948aIt appears I have the traveling bug.  I want to go to some places I’ve already been, places I haven’t been to yet, near and far, alone or together, but somewhere, anywhere I can relax and explore. Pack a bag, hop a plane and be gone.

Lots of people do that everyday, but for me it’s kind of a new feeling because I used to be scared to death to fly. It wasn’t so much about a smashing into the ground, splattered into a million pieces kind of thing (although that definitely was a consideration) as much as it was, I think, about floating in an area that seemed (because it was) eons from the rest of the world in a pressurized cabin that rocked and rolled along with a very annoying humming noise for the majority of the flight. I was never really afraid during takeoff, and I loved, loved landing. The closer we got to the ground the better I felt, and I’m eternally grateful that the runway was never shorter than the length of the taxiing.

One of my favorite movies is “French Kiss”,  primarily because I love Meg Ryan, even though it appears she’s been kidnapped by aliens and vanished off the face of the earth, but also because I love the notion that she overcame her deathly fear of flying to cross the continental divide in a misguided attempt to snatch her fiance from the arms of the woman he left her for and was now happily banging in France.  Her attempt at those airline classes intending to show people how irrational their flying phobia is was a dismal failure, so Kate just sucked it up and got on the plane, determined to see it through because she had no other choice. Once  on board, she meets Luc (aka Kevin Kline) and their subsequent conversation describes my former feelings to a tee.

Luc: “What do you think, the plane is going to crash and we are all on the ground in a thousand pieces dead? I promise you, if it happens, you won’t feel a thing.”

Kate: “You’re French, aren’t you?”

Luc: “I am curious, how did you get around before, or do you just stay at home, curled up with the windows down?”

Kate: “I get around as nature intended: in a car.”

Aside from trips to Hawaii or France, which I think would be difficult, not to mention expensive in terms of gas, I just figured I’d see the good old US of A (maybe Canada and Mexico too, I think you can take like a year-long road trip there) and forget anywhere else that required high-powered takeoffs and the unfurling of landing gear.  I was in good company, too. Even big, burly John Madden went everywhere in a bus.

I wasn’t always afraid to fly. I grew up in New York, and I was in a relationship in high school with a guy who went off to college a short plane ride away. Not a 747 plane ride away either. A small, little puddle jumper kind of plane. Maybe the romantic notion of a weekend together cancelled out any thoughts of death I may have had brewing subconsciously, I don’t know, but I flew. Fairly often. Then I moved to California, and because my family was still back east, I flew back there at least once a year to see them.

I had one really scary flight once. My fiance and my future mother-in-law were flying home for an engagement party my parents were throwing for us in New York. Apparently there was terrible weather the pilot wasn’t aware of (really, no one else flying through Armageddon a few hours before had radioed that maybe we’d want to bend over and kiss our asses goodbye? Oh wait, no way to do that anyway, since the glow-in-the-dark picture of the buckled together seat belt was still on) and the flight suddenly developed into something like one of those monstrous roller coaster rides at one of the country’s top amusement parks. Anyway, the flight was a stopover, we landed, took off again, made it quietly and safely to New York and I still flew again after that.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery in the late fall of 1990, I flew back to be with him. Then in May of 1993 when my brother graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and again a month later when my dad passed away. The following year my husband, kids, sister, brother and nephew flew to Hawaii to vacation together in the one place my dad had always wanted to go and never made it to.  It was a wonderful vacation and I was glad we did it, and you’d think maybe that was a lesson I would learn something from, but the truth was that it was a white knuckler flight for me and I remember thinking I had had enough.

I decided I wouldn’t fly again. It just wasn’t worth it to me to tempt the hands of fate in a vehicle piloted by someone I had never had the pleasure of actually meeting and getting to know before we spent 5 or more hours together packed like sardines with a hundred or more strangers in a giant metal container with wings and tiny retractable wheels. I missed weddings, family gatherings, high school reunions and fabulous vacation spots, and I disappointed more than my fair share of friends and relations, but it was what it was.

Fear is a funny thing. It protects you by not allowing you to risk anything, but it also prevents you from experiencing some of the most incredible places and people life has to offer.  I was grounded for many years, and then one day, 50 and single, I just decided it was time to spread MY wings and fly.  I wish I could help anyone else who may have a flying phobia by giving you all sorts of tips on how I did it, but I can’t.  I just realized that life was short and meant to be lived, and that when my number was up, it was up, no matter where I might happen to be. Plane, train or automobile. Some things are just out of our control, and my truth is that one day my fear of flying was just gone. As if it had never been.

The first few trips I took were short. Phoenix and Las Vegas. You’re up and down before you can figure out how to open the damn bag of peanuts they give you.  I had an iPod by then too, so a headset and music definitely helped with the humming noise and the friendly conversationalist sitting next to me. Then I flew to South Beach with my kids for my nephew’s wedding, and I knew I was on my way.

The turning point for me was the first cross country trip I made solo in May of 2009. My aunt and uncle owned a fabulous house in Hoboken, NJ and I wanted to see them, their house, and the new New York City. You know, the cleaned up, safer, vibrant, exciting, throw your hat in the air Mary Tyler Moore style Manhattan.  I know that was Minneapolis, I just liked the descriptive visual. Broadway, cute little boutique hotel for one night, Fifth Avenue, the works.

Not wanting to waste a day flying, I opted for the red eye on JetBlue out of Long Beach to JFK.  I drove myself to the airport, parked in the long-term lot, unloaded my 100 lb. suitcase (which I ultimately had to pay extra for, both ways)  out of the back of the car and onto the shuttle they take you to the terminal in, and headed straight for the bar. It was a great flight and that trip allowed me to do something I’d only been hoping for and wanted to do for a long time.  Besides the flying.

I’ve been back and forth many more times to Vegas and Phoenix, to Santa Rosa a few times, and I’m headed to Florida in May to see my mom, then to New York in July for my 40th high school reunion.  Someday I’ll get to Nashville, New Orleans, France and Italy.  Look at me, I’m flying.

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9 thoughts on “Fear of Flying

  1. I have always loved to fly and I go into withdrawal when I do not get to fly. My mother-in-law figures the best part of going anywhere for me is actually the plane ride. She might be right. I spent 10 years working as a flight nurse and flew, flew,flew all over the arctic – what an experience.

  2. I too have a fear of flying – I guess I’m not ready to part with family and friends. I do fly to visit family – but try to read or listen to music so I won’t get involved in the worrying about the flight. Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for posting Sandi! I agree, being distracted and focusing on the end result is the only way to go =)

  3. In 1986 we took 30 teenage boys to Europe for Soccer tournaments. I believe it was a 13 hour flight. I sat in the center row …. Dead center. Body to the left of me, body to the right No window to see out. No wall to rest my head against. Unlike my husband who could fall asleep hanging upside down like a sloth, I could not sleep at all. The flight back..same seating but returning with a headcold. Flying in Cargo with a warm blanket would have been better. Flying has never been a joy for me. But I do like take offs. The whole security thing now at airports is the final straw. I do not see flying in my near future.

  4. That was a pretty ambitious trip my friend! The security doesn’t bother me at all, but everything is more tolerable anyway when you’ve been to the bar before check-in =)

  5. Good for you for recognizing you fears and taking steps to overcome them. Many people would just refuse to fly and let the fear inhibit them.

    You’re absolutely right about how fear can actually prevent you from living your life. I’m not typically scared of things (except for snakes. Effing snakes. That’s my fear.) Other than that, I don’t let many things stand in my way. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, though. Sometimes fear is good, as it protects us from getting hurt. I think the “No Fear” mentality isn’t good either, as it definitely doesn’t allow for good decision making.

    Those “No Fear” t-shirts are also an example of poor decision making in the 90s. What’s even worse, is that I had so many of those shirts I can’t even count them, LAME!

    I think it’s great you’re pushing yourself to fly more. I LOVE to travel and try to take a trip about every month or so, but at least every other month. Life is for the living, right?!

    I say you should grab life by the arm and go.

    I realize the expression is “grab life by the balls” but who would want to grab anything by the balls? Ew.

  6. I used to fly across country from my boarding school in CA back to NJ all the time and I was NEVER scared to fly on an airplane. But now? I am suddenly TERRIFIED. I did have one awful experience which is why I haven’t been able to get back onto an airplane. And now, will all of my health issues? I am way to scared of germs on a plane!

    “Fear is a funny thing. It protects you by not allowing you to risk anything, but it also prevents you from experiencing some of the most incredible places and people life has to offer.”

    That is VERY true!

    And I am very happy you managed to overcome your fears of flying.

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