I read an article today about the real odds of dying in a plane crash. It did nothing to eliminate my fears but it reminded me of something awesome. Anybody who really knows me knows that I am a total spazz when it comes to flying. I usually start freaking out a good day prior to the actual flight. Actually that’s not true – as soon as I book the flight I look up the type of aircraft I’ll be flying on and gather as much info as I can about it.
737? That’s the workhorse of the Boeing fleet. Pilots know these planes.
767? Spacious, enough room to freak out in peace. I’d take this to Frankfurt any day.
Airbus A320? Eh not the best but it’ll get me there in one piece…?!
Bombardier CRJ? TOO SMALL way too small, definitely not good.
The day of the flight as I wait at the gate, I like to scope out the pilots. Only one stripe on his sleeve?! I’m screwed. Four stripes? What if he has a heart attack and croaks mid-flight. I like my pilots to have 2-3 stripes; that’s long enough to experience a lot but not so long that they’re become lazy in the cockpit.
As for the crew, I’m pretty impartial. They could be old, young, male, female, gay, straight, I don’t really care. So long as they keep bringing me the vodka I like them. One time on a very very very bad flight from Denver to Houston I had to ask a flight attendant to help me because I was going into full on breathe-into-a-paper-bag panic attack. The flight attendant gave me free movie access and held my hand on take-off, I kid you not. The skies were black with storms, lightning was all around, turbulence was horrid and even one of her flight attendant friends said way too audibly, “whoa, this flight is kinda freaking me out”. I think the look my flight attendant – the NICE one – gave her said everything it needed to say because I didn’t see that evil attendant for the rest of the trip home.
Another time on a flight from Paris to Austin it was pretty bumpy over the Atlantic, and I overheard one of the attendants say “it’s not usually like this, I wonder what’s wrong”.
Then there are all my fears about birds. Darn birds, I have never liked them much aside from their sweet tweeting outside my window, and I like them even less since learning that should they fly into a jet engine it could bring the plane crashing to the earth, a la flight 1549, only this time Captain Sully won’t be my pilot because really, those kind of miracles don’t happen twice.
Here’s another thing: I like the window shades OPEN people!!! I like it open because then I can monitor the engines and wings and alert the pilot if the shit hits the fan. I like to see what I’m flying over, too. Not so much for the awe-factor but more for the “don’t want to die there” factor. Places I don’t want to die include the mid-Atlantic, over Bogota Colombia, or in Louisiana swamp. If the plane has to go down I would like it to go down over the mountains, please.
(Wow this post has just taken a dismal turn.)
The article also brought up DVT, or deep vein thrombosis. This isn’t something I used to worry about until a year or so ago; now I spend the lucid moments (read: when the Tylenol PM and vodka cocktail stops working) making tiny circles with my ankles and getting in and out of my seat.
One of my other favorite in-flight tricks is to dope myself up with enough Immodium that I don’t poop for a week, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t save me and the poor sap next to me a few ups and downs throughout the flight. Remember? I like the window. You won’t see me sitting in a convenient-but-terrifying aisle seat.
So you’re probably all like, wow, she must be the best traveling partner ever but really, I try to be polite about it all. Before take-off, if the person doesn’t seem to be a meanie, I’ll alert them that I’m afraid to fly. If they look like or are acting like a total rude-y then I let them figure it out all on their own.
Back in 1999 I’d just moved with my family from Seattle to Austin. I was really, really homesick that year and decided to fly back to Seattle and spend Christmas with my friends. I remember sitting in the front row on the left side of the plane; there were 3 seats on each side of the plane. To my dismay I was seated in the aisle seat, nobody was in the middle, and there was a guy sitting next to the window. I told the guy “hi, I’m afraid to fly”… this guy took it upon himself to chat with me the entire 4-hr flight. He told me about how he’d just returned from the war in Bosnia and how he was flying to Seattle to see his sister and meet his newborn niece. He told me about being in the Army and that he was stationed at Fort Hood. “The odds of crashing this plane are next to zero” he said, and then explained how every system has multiple back-up systems, and that it was so very unlikely they would all fail. I remember he liked to snowboard so we talked about skiing and the mountains and how I’d love to see all the mountain ranges of the world. This guy talked to me about everything under the sun until we had landed safely in Seattle. We exchanged numbers and met up with our friends & family. What I remember most about that flight is how sweet he was, constantly trying his best to make me feel comfortable and allay my fears.
8 years later I married that guy. He still does his absolute best to calm me down when we fly together. Sometimes it works, most the time it doesn’t, but God bless him for always trying.
I may be the worst flying buddy ever, but it’s not always bad…