Flying is one of the scariest things ever. You’re sitting in a pretty big metal missile that’s carrying one hundred and fifty complete strangers through the upper atmosphere at crazy speeds. It’s no wonder it’s on my list of phobias, and it’s no wonder it scares so many people.
When adults with a fear of flying have to take a plane to get somewhere, they have options: they can get hammered and pass out on the flight, they can eat a special brownie and feel all hungry and tingly the whole time, or they can pop pills until they’re practically comatose. But when you’re a child flying, you just have to suck it up. No parent is going to let you get schwasty-faced on an airplane. Nor will they allow you to eat a weed brownie (or maybe they will–hey, if you’re that parent… You’re a terrible parent). And I certainly hope they don’t force feed some more kid a handful of Xanax before a three hour flight to Chicago.
No, as much as other passengers wish that parents would drug their children (babies especially) on flights in order to shut up that racket, there’s not much you can do if your child is petrified of flying. The little bastard just needs to stop being such a child, am I right?
Well, I was one of those unfortunate children. But it was possibly one of the most controlled fears I had. My family flew a lot. We’d go to one of two places: Cleveland or Hawaii. I realize those destinations are polar opposites and demonstrate a sort of schizophrenia in our psyches, but understand that we have love ones in
the former and love the latter.
On the short flights, my brothers and I sat side by side in Coach while my parents flew in First Class. My mom made sure to preemptively deflate any arguments by preparing each of us an identical treat bag: a ziploc filled with candy. She also gave us handheld video games (Hangman was our favorite), playing cards, coloring books, and regular books. I sat in the middle always, partially to keep my brothers from fighting and but mostly because, as the youngest, I got the bitch seat. We were mostly well-behaved, minus the elbow wars we had over the arm rests–I suffered from countless bruises because of these battles, and my brothers each had one armrest to themselves! Oh, the inhumanity of being the youngest child!–but we never let our arguments pass the fingernail digging and elbow jabbing. We wanted the flight attendants to tell our parents how nicely their children flew (It was an ongoing thing. The better the report from the attendants, the more likely we were to be rewarded with further candy. Pavlovian techniques at their finest).
On the longer flights we flew First Class, too. I always felt utterly spoiled by this. I would sit in the aisle seat (Like there was any way I was going to sit in the window seat, I needed to be closer to the emergency exit nearest me, duh) and watch everyone load the plane. I would stare at them as they stared at me, and wonder if they were thinking about punching me in the face to take my spot. I knew I’d be thinking about it if I were them. What did I need the extra two feet of leg room for? My legs didn’t even touch the ground.
When the exit door was sealed and the safety talk began, I would put away everything I was doing. I took out the safety card and examined it, the flight attendants, or the video that was playing attentively. I memorized my nearest exits, I practiced my emergency landing techniques, and I ran through every water-landing scenario that I could think of at three, five, eleven years old. I knew how to secure my oxygen mask, and I always wanted to check on my life vest, just in case.
Then, as the safety talk ended and we prepared to take off, I would curl into the fetal position in my seat. I would then try desperately to fall asleep. As I grew older, I mastered this technique and was often asleep seconds after the safety talk, only to wake seconds after take-off completed. If I failed to fall asleep, however, I sat upright with my knees to my chest and I prayed for a safe take-off.
Then the actual flight. I kept my fingers on my guardian angel necklace, praying to God every few seconds. I told Him if he let me survive this flight, I would do such-and-such for however many days. And I always followed through, because he let me live. What kind of inconsiderate nincompoop would I be if I prayed to God for safety and didn’t follow through on my word? A complete inconsiderate nincompoop, that’s what kind.
As the flight progressed, I would get bold. Maybe read a few pages of a book, listen to some music, or watch whatever crappy movie they chose for the flight. But I always kept my fingers on my necklace, and at any sign of turbulence I was back in the fetal position praying. If I was reading and the turbulence started, I considered it a sign from Above (well, technically, Around) that God didn’t want me to read. So I would do something else. A lot of the time, that resulted in my just sitting in my seat praying, because God had eliminated all of my possibilities. I was obviously quite a narcissistic child, to think that God cared that much about a dinky six-hour flight from Los Angeles to Maui, and about a little girl who prayed obnoxiously the entire time. If He listened to any of those prayers, it must have been a slow day at the office. I wasn’t very high up on the “answer her prayers” list, in other words. But I thought I was.
Every flight was exactly the same: Fetal position, prayer, prayer, praying, peeing, and some more prayer. If the flight was especially bumpy, I cried and knew I was about to die, that God had finally found someone more important to listen to.
When I was finally medicated, most of that fear evaporated. Sure, turbulence unsettles me every once in a while, but that’s because it’s literally jostling my body about like a rag doll. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of unsettling.
The first flight when I was medicated was a short one from Colorado to Utah. We were flying to get our scuba diving certification (Yes, you can get that in Utah), and it was an extremely bumpy ride due to the air streams over the Rocky Mountains. Instead of crying, praying, throwing up, or curling up into a little ball. I threw my arms up in the air and laughed with glee like I was on a roller coaster. My parents smiled at me, proud that their daughter wasn’t a ball of neurosis anymore.
And then the plane crashed.