I am deathly afraid of flying. The combination of the fear of heights, confined spaces, lack of control, and the idea of hurtling through the air in a metal can makes me wild-eyed. 9/11 did not help alleviate this fear and although I’m better now, I would racially profile every passenger on the plane. It didn’t help that I moved to London two years after 9/11 and so the proportion of ethnic folk on my flights increased dramatically as did the number of long-haul transatlantic flights I took that year. I want to apologize to one man in a turban, who I’m sure is a lovely man, but who I stared down for the duration of one eight-hour flight because I was so terrified of him being a terrorist. I’m fairly certain he was more freaked out by me, with my darting crazy eyes, following his every move. I know, so ignorant and irrational. But when my fear overtakes me, all rational thoughts leave me.
I remember when I lived in Illinois and took a flight from Champaign, a sleepy college town in Illinois, to Chicago. I was on one of those four-seater propeller planes (two seats on each side), with less than twenty rows. I must have been around fifteen years old. As those who have landed into O’Hare know, it can be quite a turbulent descent due to the high winds. It is markedly an even more turbulent descent when flying in a toy plane. I was sitting next to a clean-cut, professional business man. When the plane rapidly dipped and descended due to the turbulence, the roller-coaster sensation put me into my scared shirtless mode. I went to grab the arm rest but grabbed my neighbor’s crotch instead. And grabbed it hard. This appalled and flustered man tried to remove my hand, but when I’m that overcome with fear, I become a statue. So as this man tried to pry my rigor mortis right hand off his crotch, he must have either been terrified of the bat-shit-crazy girl sitting next to him or took pity on me. Either way, after he removed it from his lap, he held my sweaty hand and spoke soothing words until we touched down.
I wish I could say this was the worst episode I experienced. But alas, no. Fast forward a decade when I was flying from London to either Geneva or Budapest. The descent was going smoothly until the very last ten minutes. The tin can I was in started dipping left to right as we were in our final descent and rapidly approaching the runway. I could see passengers craning their necks in concern and a group of elderly men commenting about the landing. As we were getting closer and closer to the runway and still rolling left and right, my anxiety spiked dramatically and I yelled out loud, “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”
These days I travel with my friend, Xanax. He mellows me out enough that I can act like a civilized human being and not a deranged lunatic. Mostly because he lulls me to sleep. So if you ever see me frantically rummaging in my bag for a pill bottle, know that the bat-shit-crazy lady is coming out and needs to be subdued.