Friday, November 09, 2007
Fear of Flying
I have a fear of flying. I suspect my aviophobia extends beyond the fear of handing over a boarding pass but that's where it starts. I'm afraid of a lot of things . . . change, anaesthetics, giving up the cigs, rejection, jaywalking, dark alleys, under the bed, walking into pubs alone . . . but enough of my insecurities . . .
Back to literal flying. I also have a great love of travelling so in order to do one, I must face the other. I've travelled a lot, not as much as I would like but in some ways the long hauls are better than the short. After spending 28 hours in a plane, you become blase and the fear subsides and you get free booze and cute little trays with funny food and free movies which make sitting next to the smelly Christian Bikie from Hell more bearable. For me, when air travel is involved, the destination becomes more important than the journey, meeting up with someone you've never met or haven't seen for simply ages is its own reward. It's the island hops and short stops that really make me fearful.
It begins with the booking. These days all done over the internet with a piece of plastic, automated and no ticket issued, just a reference number. It's the first disappointment and the first point of panic. No 'issued' ticket so you don't get the feeling that you have just bought yourself a nice little gift, just the horrible hollow panicky feeling that you might have made a mistake and booked a trip to Timbuktoo instead of Melbourne. So much so that you have to look at the unceremoniously named 'e-ticket' a hundred times to make sure you got the destination and the date right and that your credit card isn't going to be debited for $3000 instead of $300.
Then there's a lull until a week before the trip. And that awful sick, "God I've got to organise how to get on the plane . . " feeling hits. My travelling companion starts talking about whether to drive, get a taxi, get a lift to the airport, park overnight and all I can think about is twiddling knobs and checking that the seat belt works and are the safety directions are clear, how old is the plane and is my Will in order and who will feed the dog if I die? It's all-pervasive and invades every thought with that odd blend of excitement and terror.
Then we arrive at the airport and that wonderful smell of aircraft fuel and the incessant hum of warming engines and the occasional scream of incoming and outgoing jets gets the adrenalin rushing but not in a pleasurable way. I always manage to travel with someone who wants to be the first on the plane and sit there for 20 minutes waiting for other travellers to bustle by. Not this little black duck. I'm in the transit bar downing Gin and Tonics as if it's lolly water, taking my pulse and willing myself back into a resting state. Then it really is last call time and as one of the last to enter the flying coffin, I'm in a cold sweat. The stewards smile sweetly and point me to my seat oblivious to the fact that I'm dying inside. Bags stowed, belt checked, aircon twiddled and a cursory glance over the wing to make sure all its 'bits' are intact and we start to move backwards before turning towards the runway. Some guy who sounds like he's pinching his nose tells me the weather conditions and mentions in passing that it might be a little bumpy but we hope to reach our destination at 18:30 . . . quick check under the seat to make sure the life jacket is there . . . as if I'd get enough time to put it on as we plummet towards the Tasman or into the Great Dividing Range.
Then the worst bit, the bit the kids like, the bit that makes most people go "Weee here we go!" and reminds them of thrill rides at cheap amusement parks. The bit where the bile climbs into my throat and I think I'm going to be sick . . .nope, not the take off . . .the seconds before . . that pause at the end of the runway where things go incredibly quiet before becoming incredibly loud and we roar off towards the mouth of Botany Bay and I'm sure we're going to end up in the drink. The bit that makes me feel like I'm being pulled backwards by the Demon before being launched at a thousand miles an hour down an infinite loop.
Once up, I'm fine . . its a fate accompli . . . I'm out of control . . .my life is in someone else's hands so might as well relax, read the in-flight magazine and order another G & T until it's time to descend. Unless of course there's turbulence which there often is on the shorter flights . . .the minute they stop serving beverages, I freeze like a wax dummy and think about all the unfinished business I have even though I thought it was all under control.
I know we're heading down long before anyone else. The pressure builds in my head while business men browse their Financial Reviews and giggly women chat incessantly about the special purchases they're going to make once on the ground and how much they enjoyed Phantom of the Opera last time they visited. Mummies prepare their children by wiping their snotty noses and briefing them on what Granny looks like. Snooty stewards are policing the aisles making sure everything is stowed and your half full glass of gin is confiscated with a flourish.
Im already worrying about the landing although by now the G & T's have kicked in and a warm, lustrous glow surrounds me. I look and feel like a halo'd angel with a Mona Lisa smile until we really start to dip and I have to clutch the arms of the seat until my knuckles go white and clench the glutes until my bum's sore. I grit my teeth and hope that my ageing fillings can stand the pressure. My ears pop and now, worst of all, there's a widescreen displaying our descent and approach and I can see the tilt of the plane as the tarmac rises to greet us . . . I know you see, that most accidents happen on landing or take off. This is why the panic ensues at these particular times. I'm not comfortable until the nose wheel is on the ground, the red lights go off and the plane is dawdling at walking place into the terminal. Actually, I'm not happy until I'm off the thing and hugging friends at the airport and looking forward to quality time with people I spend so little time around these days.
Well over the next few weeks, I'm doing a lot of flying. Not just in the literal sense but venturing into the unknown and I'm surprisingly calm this time. Maybe all those long hauls and island hops have finally desensitised me. Maybe I've decided that facing fear is better than avoiding it. Perhaps not quite like Erica Jong's Isadora . . .but I can embrace these new events and deal with the fear in a more mature and resigned way . . . if not, there's always Gin and Tonic. I just which they served it in a schooner glass.