I had back surgery a few years ago and within a few months of my recovery I got on a plane for a trip back east. Once we landed, the back seized on me, and I had a bunch of swelling, a tad bit of disgusting ooze from the incision and oddly enough, a huge amount of relief. Yes, relief.
I now had my built-in excuse to never fly again.
Statistics are forever trotted out about how safe the skies are and how our airplanes are models of technology, safety and sophistication.
So I have some problems. For one, I don’t fit well on an airplane. My 6-foot-7 frame is not agreeable to your standard coach or business class sections of the plane, and before you send me your recommendations about the joy and wonder of the marvelous exit row seats, please just know that I’ve lobbied for that prized seat and have only been successful about half the time. For the other half, I’ve made it a point to gaze at the lucky recipient of the exit row of seating, and in my experience they are typically occupied by smallish-folk, who not only don’t really need the extra room, they also rarely appear to be the type who can get the exit door open in the event of an emergency.
Sorry, that’s a bit harsh, but I’m prone to profiling exit row occupants out of spite and jealousy.
Once crammed into my “everyman” seat, I usually find myself seated behind the guy who feels it absolutely necessary to recline his seat back as far as possible so that he can stretch-out and get comfortable. This act – and I do realize it is unintentional – normally results in my knees taking a pretty good beating. I’ve asked the guy in front of me on occasion to not recline the seat, and I’ve been treated to three levels of response: Super Rare: “Hey, sorry about that. I’ll keep it upright.” Typical: “Oops, sorry.” (But no change to recline status). Belligerent: “I paid for this seat and I want to recline it.”
I’d like to think that we live in a society where the belligerent response was really the rare exception to the human condition, but I’ve had plenty of response of the sort and lots of knee bruises to prove it.
But before you get out your tissues and cry about my sad tale, please know that being a tall, awkward and uncomfortable traveler is the least of my problems when it comes to flying. No, my issues run much, much deeper than cramped seating, tiny bags of peanuts and yakety-yak passengers. Nope, my problem is all in my head.
Yes, I am now officially afraid to fly.
There, I said it. I even admitted as much in a therapy session with Bette a few weeks back and we discussed it. She even recommended a book on the subject. A few others in my circle of trust have volunteered various pharmaceutical remedies to nurse me through my nervousness. Still, I remain steadfast in my fear, as illogical as it likely seems.
I suppose being a bit skittish about our airways is quite normal given the flying public’s proclivity to the aforementioned pill-popping, as well as the massive amount of alcohol consumption I’ve witnessed before, during and after takeoff. But seeing as I am never going to take a pill, and knowing that getting tipsy would only exacerbate the problem, I’ve really got no solution other than to forego the friendly skies for the indeterminable future.
But only if it were your classic case of the yips and nervousness that we were talking about here. No, it’s a paralyzing, frantic, depressing, all-encompassing fear that literally takes over my being. True. Just ask Sam. In the weeks leading up to a trip I become this quiet, loathsome fellow who can barely eat. Once in the air, I start sweating and my heart feels as if it will leap right out of my chest, and every little bump along the way has me browning my pants just a little more. Once safely on the ground at my destination, I celebrate my good fortune for about 25 seconds before I immediately begin obsessing about my return flight, be it three or thirteen days away. It will be all I can think about. I’ll start fantasizing about taking a train, renting a car or hitchhiking my way across the country.
Anything to stave-off being 35,000 feet in the air ever again.
See? I told you I was scared. A tad obsessive too.
If only that were all.
Please don’t hate me for what I’m about to tell you.
So it turns out that not only am I scared of becoming a statistic, to be among the rare unfortunate people who die each year in accidents involving commercial aircraft (a quick check reveals the number to be on average around 250 per year worldwide compared to an average of 40,000 fatalities on American highways each year), I also happen to have an unhealthy interest in said accidents.
You know those people on the road who have to slow down to check out the traffic accident? That apparently is me when it comes to plane crash coverage on television. From breaking news reports to documentaries and everything in between, I tend to find the subject fascinating.
Now remember, I pleaded with you to not hate me.
While I know that it is simply impossible to separate out the human tragedy part of a plane crash from the rest of it, I assure you that I am not at all interested in death or families in mourning. Rather, there is a part of me that simply finds it rather intriguing that something flying so fast and so high in the sky, something so wonderfully technological and so advanced – practically futuristic – just somehow…failed.
Man, I just wrote that and I know it sounds like I’m some weirdo.
I’m not. It’s just an odd obsession with the mechanical, structural and human elements involved in catastrophic failure that has me feeling very CSI when the planes go down.
I want to know why it happened and I want to know how the investigators will arrive at their answers. Sometimes it takes years to arrive at a final answer, but I find myself tracking discovery all the way to its conclusion.
Again, I admit all this to you, kind reader, knowing that I can be accused of being insensitive to victims and families, and for that I apologize. For whatever reason I find myself turning a blind eye to the human element and focus solely on the investigation.
Perhaps this unhealthy obsession – one which has grown by leaps and bounds since I was a kid – is mostly to blame for my ongoing phobia. Gee, ya think?
But even if I weren’t interested in crashes and the investigations that followed, I’d likely be questioning my very own sanity if I ever stepped on another airplane in light of the following:
- Eastern Flight 401 crashed because the cockpit crew got obsessed over an inoperative light bulb
- Aeroflot Flight 593 went down after the pilot let his son sit at the controls
- Two small pieces of overlooked tape brought down Aeroperú Flight 603
And these are only three examples of some odd circumstances that led to tragic consequences in our skies.
Yes, seeing photos and footage of the gaping hole on the Southwest plane that was flying over Arizona this weekend had me once again obsessing. The tug of war of my personalities – one wanting to know why it happened and the other who continues to swear-off boarding another flight – was once again in play.
Those who know me very well are not at all surprised by the contents of this post, while others are likely questioning the future of our relationship. That comes with the every-day experience of being me.
One thing I know for certain is that I won’t be getting on a plane anytime soon and I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting a public relations gig with any of the airlines in this lifetime.