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Monday, January 24, 2011

Fear of Flying, Not by Erica Jong

Hi, I’m Diane and I used to be afraid to fly.

It’s one of my proudest accomplishments that I’m no longer afraid and I willingly get on airplanes to wherever and don’t clutch the arm of the person sitting next to me.

When my fear of having to jump off the plane wing clutching my seat cushion was overshadowed by my need to get from point A to point B faster than a speeding car, it just became a non-issue. The fear of flying gets very boring after a while, and I had to get over it.

I was once on a puddle-jumper where the pilot was a 15-year-old who doubled as the steward and baggage handler and when we hit some turbulence I launched into a laugh-cry combo that can only be described as true hysteria. I was reading The Final Days, the most depressing book of all time, upside down and laughing so hard I was crying like Pat Nixon. It was the beginning of my total freak-out fear of flying.

When it was at its peak, when my kids were at a collective age that meant maximum suffering if they lost their mom, I was so afraid to fly that I once actually considered taking a train from Chicago to Philadelphia. I had the phone in one hand ready to dial 1-800-AMT-RACK and the schedule in the other hand. I kept looking at the schedule. Twenty seven hours? Can that be right? What, was it stopping at every school zone crosswalk through three of the wider states?

OK, I thought. That’s not a problem. I’ll read a book. Then I’ll take a nap. Then I’ll eat some Cheez-Its that I’ll invariably pack (I never went very far from home without America’s favorite cheese snack, back then). Then I’ll read some more. Then I’ll do a crossword puzzle. More Cheez-Its. Write a few letters. More reading. Sleep. Then for the next 25 hours . . . I booked a flight on Delta. I figured I’d rather die in a fiery sky crash than be paralyzed by boredom for 27 hours. I wasn’t sure I would be mentally OK after that kind of ordeal.

I tell people I got over my fear of flying when my kids got older and I realized that they needed me less. But the reality is that I just wanted to get to my damn destination. There’s nothing like a realistic look at the alternatives to make you realize that we need to fly. “If God had wanted men to fly . . .” Yeah, He would have made us smart enough to figure out how to get a big metal ship full of fat people, liquor and savory snacks up in the air with a fewer than 1 percent chance of crashing, which we did, thank you very much. So, yeah, I think it was meant to be.

I realize that not everyone is at this place. Not everyone has come to this realization. Their kids are still young and very needy. Some children don’t yet know how to make Kraft macaroni and cheese and fill out the FAFSA on their own. So their parents are fearful of leaving them too soon, and so they avoid air travel. If you’re bored with your current location and even more bored by the idea of taking your next vacation in the mini-van, here are some things that could nudge you into submission and get you through that next flight:

Calming thoughts

To convince yourself that you’re not going to crash, ask yourself the following questions at take-off:
  • Are there children on board? If so, you’re not going to crash. Simple as that. Not going to happen.
  • Are others talking calmly despite that clicking noise and the whirrrrrrring that obviously is the wheels being tucked in, which is going on far too long? If the more experienced fliers are not nervous, who are you to be a know-it-all?
  • Do the flight attendants look like the head shots that they would have to put in the paper if there was an air disaster? No? You’re fine. Relax and enjoy the flight.

Sky Mall

Goodness, this is an entertaining catalog to read. There’s nothing like “Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti Statue” and Foot Alignment Socks to take your attention away from a piece of duct tape on the wing, which reminds you . . . did they take the time to refuel? Boarding was awful soon after those other people left the plane . . . They barely had time to pick up the dirty napkins, could they possibly have checked the oil and transmission fluid . . . Oh, look, it’s a big white headgear Laser Hair Therapy Treatment to combat hair loss for only $499 . . . Fuel? Who needs fuel?

Dale Carnegie on crack

This is pretty far fetched, but it’s worked for me, so it’s a viable alternative for the desperate. Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living advised that we should all combat nervousness by facing the worst possible scenario head on. Get on that plane knowing you’re going to die. Then start thinking of all the positive sides to that. If you die in this plane crash, you won’t have to pay 2010 taxes. Nor will you have to take that Lit test on Friday. No more hangovers, no more Jenny Craig weigh-ins, no more shaving your legs, no more seeing that creepy neighbor every time you go to the mailbox, no more grunting weight lifter at the gym. Before you know it, you’ll start to feel a pang of regret when you touch down smoothly and safely.

The Rosary

You don’t have to be Catholic to take advantage of this. We Catholics are not stingy. We’ll share. You don’t even need a rosary to pray the Rosary, just count on your fingers, 10 Hail Marys, a Glory Be and an Our Father for each mystery, and - believe me - the mystery of how this freaking plane can stay up in the air like magic does count.

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