A few months ago, my sister and I had a plane incident. This involved an engine exploding outside our window and making an emergency landing, and me thinking I was going to die for about twenty minutes.
To force myself to get over it, I booked a trip to Ireland/England/Spain and made myself take six flights. I was worried, my family was
worried. There were tears and prayers and sleeping pills may have exchanged hands, but in the end I just relied on the free wine they offer on international flights. And the excitement of going to Ireland and Spain, two places I’d promised myself before my thirtieth birthday. Check check!
It was sweet of many people to check in on me about the flying thing. It had become an issue I didn’t want to cripple my traveling dreams for forever. So I thought I would talk about what the experience is like to get over this fear for me, in case someone else has this fear and somehow it helps to put words to the experience.
- The anxiety starts the night before the flight. I can’t sleep. I procrastinate packing. I make a killer playlist. (Normal pre-travel things for me.) But getting in bed and actually sleeping is
pretty impossible. Sometimes I think this might be a good thing, try and exhaust myself so that I just sleep on the flight and it goes quickly.
- Boarding the flight is still the annoying thing it always has been. I’m usually next to someone I don’t want to be. Everyone acts like they’ve never had to stow a carry-on before. I listen to my ipod until the very last second. I chew gum. About six pieces. The moment the flavor passes it’s peak I need another one.
- When we start pulling away from the door is when I get a little panicky. Then you hear the screws that always seem to be directly below my seat, vibrating my butt. Every bump feels like something is breaking. I don’t like how the wings look all wobbly. Grip the arm rests possessively and ignore the dirty looks from my row buddies.
- Then the plane starts accelerating and it becomes harder to control my breathing. I keep thinking we should be going faster, that we’ll never get up in the air. But we do. Then I wait for the landing gear to tuck itself under and freak me out. Then I lamaze myself through the bumpiness of pushing through the clouds and the atmosphere and watch the world sink slowly into smallness beneath our flying machine.
The rest of the flight is spent distracting myself as best as possible. Here’s my list of things I bring on planes:
- Cheetos. This is a no brainer. It’s my favorite food, and I am doing something scary. Reward! Plus, if I’m going to fall out of the sky and die, I will not greet Jesus with something stupid like kale in my teeth.
- Ipod. Going on a plane means I get to download five new songs, and anything free in the TV or movie section. I also keep episodes of the Xfiles on my ipod, because David Duchovny.
- Water bottle. Planes are dehydrating, yo.
- New book that I can’t wait to read. Lately it’s been the Game of Thrones series, or Call the Midwife series.
- Favorite old book that comforts me to read. I like going right to the passages that I know will make me feel better.
- Gum for manic chewing.
- Journal and and pen that writes really nicely. For all the feels.
- US Weekly and other picture magazines that I can leave on the plane for the next person after I finish judging the Kardashians and Mileys of the word.
- Scarf. It can be a pillow, a warm thing, or sometimes used to mask the smells from your flatulent seatmates.
- Earplugs. Babies on a plane = boo. Unless they’re sleeping and cute.
- International Flight = free wine. Always take this. Always.
Turbulence is stressful. I almost hold hands with strangers. On my flight to Ireland, I actually made best friends with the couple next to me, 19 years old, had met doing drugs at a party in Ohio, decided to elope to Ireland. We held hands for most of the flight, mostly because I got all older sister on her and wanted to change her life. And because I was scared.
Landing is stressful. It’s the whole taking off situation in reverse. Coming into SFO is particularly heinous, because you’re positive you’re going to need to swim in a minute, and then suddenly the landing strip appears and we bounce our way home.
But the trick is to have something to look forward to at the end of your flight. Play the ending scenes from “Love, Actually” in your mind, or imagine your little brothers waiting with signs for you at the top of the escalators, or your boyfriend with flowers.
Tomorrow, for me, it’s a weekend of fun and adventure and fun in New York with my bestie! Mimosas and Cheetos on the plane. :)
- About that fear of flying (bangordailynews.com)
- Your Child’s First Plane Journey (roomtogrow.co.uk)
September 27, 2013 at 8:52 am
I like to talk because it helps to distract me from takeoff. Sometimes people are willing to chat, sometimes not. If they pull out work to do or a book to read, I respect that.
October 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm
I absolutely loved this post because I also have anxiety about flying. I really like the idea of picturing a happy scene to get you through the flight. You are so courageous to take an international flight! I’ve never flown internationally, but I do want to one day when I can. Your tips were really helpful, so thank you! =) Mimosas and cheetos sound like the perfect combo! <3
October 29, 2013 at 9:54 pm
Thanks for sharing your story. I often find myself looking around my area of the plane and wondering who will let me hold their hand.
October 30, 2013 at 9:29 pm
I’ll hold your hand. I got you, buddy.