Fear of Flying, Part 1 Million

Blogging is how we think now, right? How we process? How can I have a thought but that it become a status update? Well…

I’m in the process of trying to talk myself back on planes. I have help from a lot of lovely people–people who have said they would fly with me, people who have put me in touch with other planeophobes.

Lisa Parrish linked me to a thing A.M. Homes wrote about not flying for ten years and then flying again. These are potentially the most comforting because it has been a very long time for me. It has some things that reassure me and some things that put me back in touch with secondary reasons I stay on the ground.

There is a romance to flight, to the image of the aviator as explorer. It is perhaps one of man’s strongest impulses to try and free himself from the laws of nature, to defy gravity. We live in a global culture where time and space are compressed, where people commute coast to coast like the Jetsons. It is not unusual for an American to go to London for a single meeting and then turn around and whisk oneself home. Compelled by ambition and desire—we want everything faster and want it now.

Um? No. I do not want to be the Jetsons. I do not want to defy gravity. I just want to be able to go to Paris sometime because it’s pretty and in movies I like. And the idea of people flying to London for a single meeting and then whisking themselves home is galling. Pick up the damn phone. Jet fuel is not that great for the environment. Look into Skype. Jeez.

The article reminded me of a wilting experience I had the last time I flew. I had been advised by some rather facile fear-of-flying book or website to board early and ask to look into the cockpit, maybe shake hands with the pilot so I’d know there was a person up there steering. Very sheepishly, I asked for this, and was regarded as a simpleton and by no means encouraged. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t a good flight.

The good thing the article reinforces for me is that fear of flying has to do with other shit that was going on in your life when it came about, maybe. I was leaving a very sheltered home life for college. I felt only excitement. I think there was fear, too, but it maybe got told to shut up and decided to hang out with some other loser kids in the rusty playground of my unconscious.

Some people’s fear goes away spontaneously, it turns out. Some people find it manageable with drugs or just a couple of drinks. (You have to drink while you’re in the air or you’re going to end up tanked due to altitude.) Lately I have asked people about things like beta blockers. It feels like my fear of flying is the most deluxe fear of flying ever designed, the Rolex of phobias. It feels invincible. I will need to go at it with special weapons, like on Buffy–a show I didn’t like much but watched all of–where every season the “big bad” is 100% invincible until they come up with the right way to vince him or her.

Beyond being invincible, my fear is awfully well accessorized, these days. It’s not just the objections to 10-minute meetings in London; there’s a whole travel culture that feels alien to me, everyone trying to find the unspoiled thing, which will soon be spoiled by everyone.

As I’ve probably said, the small silver lining in having one’s travel restricted is that you value it. I do think I’ve watched travel become this thoroughly blase action for almost everyone. Oh, you know, sure, we had a free weekend, so we went to Patagonia. When I took a prosaic trip to prosaic Texas in 2009 for the first time in half a decade, I wept walking down the prosaic main drag of campus. It was like the first scene of the fucking Cherry Orchard.

We’ll see. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. It seems about 40/60 to me that I’ll actually do it. There are so many things that make it not easy to have a go at. But look out. One day I may call you from the airport.

9 responses to “Fear of Flying, Part 1 Million”

  1. Dave says:

    I generally like flying (although I’ve been afraid a few times during landing approaches), but I agree that there’s a lot about flying culture and travel culture that’s unappealing. I’d rather take the train or a boat if it’s reasonably convenient. What I love, though, is the romantic feeling of escaping my everyday location. This isn’t specific to flying; any other mode of rapid transportation is just as good. But flying is the way it usually happens.

    Also, the views from 35,000 feet are amazing, something I hope I never take for granted.

  2. Rachel says:

    Dave, that’s an amazing attitude. I can fly only if I sit in the aisle, read a magazine, and look nowhere NEAR the windows–just pretending it’s an extra-long wait in the doctor’s office or something. DENY DENY DENY, that’s the secret to air travel.

  3. FPS says:

    I remember those views, and once upon a time I liked them. I’m not sure how I’d feel about them now.

  4. Ivy says:

    I like to fly too. But where I live (NZ) it feels like an epic journey to get anywhere. Himself and I are taking a short winter holiday in Tonga in a couple of weeks and the primary reason for this choice was it was the shortest international flight to somewhere warm that wasn’t Australia. It’s three hours. But for me it isn’t the flying that gets on my wick, it’s other people. Damn them! For me, flying is the nearest I can get to an adventurous thrill though, as Meniere’s disease (chronic, severe vertigo) has forever destroyed for me the simple pleasures of rollercoasters (or indeed, children’s swings and roundabouts). Bah. Ironically, I take beta blockers to control this, which it does, to a point, and I am not sure how they would stop fear of flying. Low blood pressure and a slow heart beat, maybe, but personally, if I am stressed, the beta blockers don’t seem to stop the heart speeding up. Perhaps i am particularly rebellious. Ha! Laughable. good luck with it anyway. we all have our crosses…

  5. PB says:

    Someone asked me the other day if I missed traveling. I traveled in my previous position as often as twice a month. Now I travel on rare vacations. I said without hesitations: Not. At. All. That meeting in London business, stinks.

  6. LP says:

    Wowsers, this makes me feel very lucky that I actually like to fly. Like Dave, I love the feeling of boarding in one reality and emerging in another. (Of course, it’s also lovely to take the train and actually see the terrain changing, etc. But that feeling of “Whoa, and all of a sudden I’m HERE” is pretty delicious.)

    Ivy, I’m with you that the most irritating part of flying is often the other people. But unless they’re truly loud / overweight and halfway into my seat / obnoxious, usually a good book and an ipod is enough to keep me happily oblivious to their presence.

    Smearcase, you know how I feel about all this. I want you out here in LA for a visit! Deep breaths, deep breaths. And a couple of shots of whiskey. You can do it!

  7. J-Man says:

    I recommend some sort of sedative that puts you to sleep for the duration of the flight. Valium is my friend, and can be yours too!

  8. Josh K-sky says:

    Agree with 6.3 and 7. There is a correct drug and a correct dose that will get you to Los Angeles. Make it so.

  9. FPS says:

    All I’m saying is it’s going to take special drugs. Last time I flew, I was blitzed (alcohol + ativan) and still nervous.