For as long as I can remember I’ve been fearful of flying. I’m not so immobilized by the fear that I can’t summon the strength to board a plane, but the flight path is paved with turbulence, both imagined and real. If I could liken my problems with aviation to the problems some people have ingesting lactose, then you could say that I am Flying Uncomfortable, not Flying Intolerant.
It is a completely irrational concern, I realize. The statistics have proven that flying is among the safest modes of travel when compared to riding in taxis driven by men who have only ever operated rickshaws or riding a mule down the narrow passes of the Grand Canyon. For the same reason I am not about to plummet to my death while gripping the mane of a donkey, I’m afraid to entrust my life to a man who needs more sleep and a fuselage of metal that completely defies my comprehension of gravity.
I’ve learned in speaking to pilots and my friends at the Psychic Network that my fear boils down to a surrender of power, which leaves me breathless and uncomfortable. Call me a control freak, but I’d enjoy 30,000 feet a whole lot more from the cockpit, strapped to my own jet pack. Like those people who must enter a room by jiggling the door handle a specific number of times or arrange each pea on their plate into the profile of Abraham Lincoln before eating, I have developed a regimen I must adhere to before flying. It involves a lot of prayer, both to the real God and a pantheon of higher spirits at Boeing and Air Traffic Control. I wear layers, each of them a non-flammable cotton, so that I can remove the burning clothes as I escape through my nearest emergency exit. I always wear sneakers as opposed to high heels or sandals so that I can sprint. People who enjoy the flight barefoot really amaze me. I mean, that’s just asking for trouble. I always wear my contact lenses and my hair in a ponytail so that my sight is not impaired as I struggle along a smoke-filled yet illuminated center aisle. Lastly, and this serves as a warning to you all should you find yourself in the cabin with me, I inform on anyone — child, woman, nun in full habit — I suspect of using an electronic device with a radio signal before we’ve reached 10,000 feet.
Before moving to Maine, I traveled all over the world. I hated planes then, too, but I was a young and intrepid globetrotter whose command of geography allowed me to understand only that I couldn’t take a bus to any of these sites. Planes flew me into a myriad of stress-inducing situations. I was once settling into a British Airways flight from London to Dublin when the Captain introduced himself as Sandra Bullock.
Now Sandra Bullock may be a perfectly acceptable name for a man from Ireland, but it immediately conjured the Sandra Bullock most Americans know, who drove a bus with a bomb that was ready to detonate on board. I spent that flight breathing into the air sickness bag.
Another time, while sitting on an Arizona runway in sweltering heat, the pilot announced that Engine 1 was running a little hot, which then led a group of white-hatted college boys to joke about impending death while high-fiving and stealing sips from their Greek monogrammed flasks. I learned with that flight that it’s my right as a passenger to disembark a plane I feel is unsafe to fly. I also learned it’s my right as a passenger to wait 16 hours for a new plane with cooler engines. And I once spent most of a particularly turbulent flight strapped into the seat reserved for the flight attendants while the seatless stewardess occupied my mind with stories of her many business class lovers.
When I married, my anxiety got worse. Greg wouldn’t yield to any of my in-flight needs. He removed his shoes. He put the window shade down, which completely interferes with my ability to stare at the integrity of the wings for the entire flight. I did this all the way to Australia, so I already know this is a staring contest I will win. When the turbulence would ratchet up, I would turn to him to theatrically proclaim, “I love you. And, yes, I do give the clothing of yours I don’t like to Goodwill.”
He would just roll his eyes and tell me to stop being melodramatic. Once he even encouraged me to accept the prescription anxiety pills a woman across the aisle offered me after she noticed that I was scrawling my last will and testament onto a napkin as we flew over the Swiss Alps. I knew he was not my trusted co-pilot when he began asking for only one seat reassignment to a more spacious aisle. More often than not, I would catch him massaging his temples and muttering, “I hope this plane does crash.”
I’m traveling from Maine to New York next week. I am driving.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the Midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.