Sitting for 8 hours in a confined metal tube, at an altitude of 40,000 feet, hurtling through the air at 550/mph, aboard a long haul flight for me equates to agony, anguish and self-inflicted anxiety!
I have been travelling since I was probably a month old. Most of them long haul flights. But for the last several years, the thought of getting on a plane is beyond unnerving.
My mind is in overdrive thinking of all possible scenarios that could go wrong. Internal dialogues leave me exhausted. Manifesting the worst. Statistics don’t mean squat! Safest mode of travel? I don’t know about that.
A week before the flight
Most enthusiastic travelers do some last-minute shopping, run errands and pack their luggage.
Me: Opens up laptop. Must start tracking the national weather reports of the flight path – asap. Hmm..this seems like a low pressure area with all those red and yellow Doppler images moving on the screen. That would mean cloudy weather which would result in pelting down rain and that would lead to the inevitable …turbulence. Severe turbulence!
I really must glance at the flight safety records for the airline I’m travelling on – or better yet, let’s do it for all airlines just in case. If on the off-chance they were ever (in this life) grounded for safety issues, there is no way on God’s green earth that I am boarding that airline. I mean – who would?
Oh wait! I totally forgot. I have to check the fleet and find out which plane will be assigned to my flight. Could it be the Airbus 330 or the Boeing 777? Oh crap. It’s the Dreamliner! Nope. Not getting on. It had lithium-ion battery issues four years ago!
At the airport : Pre-boarding
Many people complain about the hassle of airports. The lines are snaking around several times, as TSA barks down orders to remove your shoes. Waiting for hours at the gate, crowded rest areas and the unexpected flight delays.
Me: My flight just got delayed. Instant relief! At least I don’t have to get in that claustrophobic contraption for another several hours. Wait a minute! Could there be a mechanical issue with the plane that they are not telling us about? Like when Phoebe said there was no Phalange on the plane!! Ha ha. That was a hilarious episode of Friends! OK Nadia – focus (and panic). I know, it’s probably a weather delay because of the severe thunderstorms the meteorologist in me had predicted. It’s probably moved from a thunderstorm to a category 4 hurricane!
‘We now invite passengers seated in rows 21-36 to now board from gate ……’
Heart rate shoots up to 160 – palms sweaty – teeth chattering – legs shaking- hands cold- nails blue – breathing erratic. Note to self: Don’t pass out in front of everyone.
Boarded and seated in the plane
Passengers are still making their way into the aircraft, and are settling in (taking forever to find space in the overhead bin), trying to change their assigned seats.
Me: That guy walking in is scanning the aircraft a lot more than needed. What is he trying to asses? I’m skeptical of his presence here. Thank God I got an aisle seat. Just in case we have to exit in an emergency! OMG! We could have an emergency on board this aircraft. Let’s pop a Xanax. Or two. Maybe three. I mean it’s not really overdose until I take four. I have a whole stash in my bag. (Frantically pulls out the blister pack). Why is the passenger next to me giving me the look?
The pilot comes on and makes his very short announcement. ‘Ladies and Gentleman. This is your Captain speaking. Welcome to …..Airways flight XZ 571 with service to London, Heathrow. Our flight time today will be ….and we will be cruising at an altitude of ….thousand feet. We expect a smooth flight, but please keep your seat belts fastened in case of unexpected turbulence.
Why is the pilot’s announcement always muffled? Is that how his messages sound to the air traffic control as well? I missed half of it! His voice didn’t sound as confident as it should have. Wait. Could he be drunk or even worse suicidal? Relax Nadia. You are just panicking. He sounded ‘older’ – like someone with decent flying hours. Or his voice is muffled because he didn’t get enough sleep the night before!!! I knew it! And I know he expects turbulence – why else would he insist we keep our seat belts fastened.
In- flight announcements
‘…..Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight’.
Me: ‘lean forward, feet firmly planted to the floor, and panic.”
‘At this time we ask that you please switch off all electronic devices’
The man in the navy suit, seated in seat 26 A, has not switched off his phone! Is this the only time he can send that email. If he doesn’t switch it off in 10 seconds, I’m calling the flight attendant.
‘Arm doors and cross check’
This is it! Doors are closed! If I ask to get off now, it will make a scene. But if I get off, it could save my life. Why did I buy the damn ticket?
Taxi and Take off
Plane is taxing on the runway and crosses each tar strip. Wing flaps widen and the engines rev up. Acceleration and wheels are off the runway. Landing gear is retracted. The plane climbs and reaches cruising altitude. Engine noise is significantly reduced.
High-end noise-cancellation headphones on and plugged. Don’t hear a sound! Love it! But wait, let me just take it off for a second to make sure everything seems fine. I can’t hear the engine -at all. Is it still working? How many engines does this plane have – in case one ceases to operate??? Headphones back on. Never mind, Xanax has kicked in – big time. (I pass a mysterious smile to the passenger next to me). All is good. Xanax is good.
Long grueling hours on board
They are starting the cabin service and bringing out meals. Turbulence will start and the fasten seat belt sign will come on and the drinks on the tray table will shake vehemently. This always happens! I know it!
Look!! An overactive toddler near the emergency exit door! Where are the parents? Hello! Someone please stop him!
Why do we have to fly over the Atlantic? There is a vast deep ocean below. Could they not have made an alternative route. Seriously! Something over land and preferably not suspended in air.
Turbulence has started -all of a sudden. Must be the clear air turbulence (CAT) I read about earlier. The fasten seat belt sign is back on. Let me take another Xanax. This could last a while. Clutch arm-rest till knuckles turn white and breathe!
But I still travel
Needless to say flying is nothing short of a nerve-racking experience for me. But over the years and many countless flights, I think I am getting better at taking flights.
Nah. Who am I kidding. I still hate it.
I am not alone though. There are many nervous flyers these days and the flight crew are absolutely phenomenal at taking care of us and our fears. I recall flying from DC to Bahrain on British Airways, and there was a good 3 hours of moderate to severe turbulence. The pilot had come on and said ‘crew take your seats’. But a flight attendant saw my state, and sat in the aisle holding my hand for the entire 3 hours!
I have had my share of embarrassing moments as well. From clutching a man’s hand across the aisle, to crying hysterically on a flight back from Singapore (as my manager sat several rows behind). I left work soon after.
I will let you know when I am able to soar the skies without worrying. Till then, wish me luck. I have another flight to catch in a few days. Let me go back and track the weather now!