Duh! Flying! Winning at 35,000 Feet

by Karen Amster-Young

Article first published as Duh! Flying! Winning at 35,000 Feet on Technorati.

If black boxes survive air crashes — why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff? – George Carlin

I hate flying.  I hate everything about it. I hate the airport. I hate the lines. I hate that I have to throw my full bottle of water or hairspray or anything else that is not 3 ounces away when I am on the security line.  I hate taking my shoes off and putting my crap in that plastic box. I hate the sensation of flying; it just completely disagrees with me in every way, in every ounce of my being.   But I love to travel, if that makes sense. I like landing. I like landing safely. I like leaving my routine at home and being somewhere else. I just hate flying to get there. Of course, as I am writing this I am trying not to watch the non-stop television coverage of the recent emergency landing involving Southwest Airlines and others.  I mean a 5-foot hole in the cabin in mid-air?  Lovely.

Of course, being a mom, I have mastered the art of appearing engaged, strong and fearless when and if my daughter is on the flight with me.  Maybe she caught on a bit once or twice, not sure except she gave me a weird face on one flight when I asked her to repeat something three times since I was likely listening to the sound of the engines or something.  She never said anything though and I guess, when I think about it, flying with her is a great distraction.  My husband however, knows better.  More about that later.   So recently, for a family trip to Aruba, it just so happened that we couldn’t get tickets (seats) together on the way home and one of my “52” to-do list items popped into my mind:  I needed to fly alone again or at least sit alone, far from both of them. I needed to fly “solo” without the distraction of my daughter’s iTouch games or constant chatter and I needed to be away from Mr. Big Shot flyer husband who would patiently look at me when needed with reassuring eyes and secret code words (so daughter wouldn’t catch-on) letting me know that the bumps we were feeling mid-flight were “normal”.  Patient? Nice? Enabling?

I am not sure when exactly this fear of flying really took hold.  I remember going on a trip to Italy in High School. I was fearless, confident, not a care in the world. Back in those days there was actually smoking in the back of the plane (imagine!).  Despite being a major high school athlete I remember sneaking to the smoking aisles with my best friend Sharon and having a cigarette on the long flight to Italy (I had joined The World Travel Club for two weeks in order to go on this trip).  My boyfriend was along for the adventure too. Best friend and my boyfriend.  Italy. Seventeen years old. It doesn’t get better than that.  No fear. No thinking. Different world, different time.  There were, of course, many, many trips after that.  I don’t remember thinking about it. Maybe I was just young and clueless.  That was the best.

Years later I flew to many cities all over the country as I tried to be a Master of the Universe, running my PR agency.  Honeymoon, family trips, trips with my first boyfriends, trips with my husband and extended family. Now, my trips at 35,000 feet up are mostly family vacations with H and daughter in tow.

I don’t want to hate flying so much. I want to learn to let go, accept that we have no way of controlling everything in the world or the “master plan”.  I want to relax more when I fly and not look to my husband for “secret code” reassurances.  He flies all the time. He gets on a plane the way I get in a cab. He can fall asleep on the runway before take-off. It’s so annoying.  I thought about this. Yes, we are different ; our energy is different; our temperaments.  He travels the world on planes weekly and I am mostly local, “holding down the fort” as they say. When did this happen? Yes, my professional life got smaller by choice as I raised my daughter. But why do I have to hate flying so much? To be honest, I think it got worse after 9/11, news coverage, no-fly lists, enhanced security.  So be it.  I am jealous of his ease with the whole thing. Like George Clooney in Up in the Air he glides through the whole process as I figure out how to survive until I land.

“There are so many people that hate flying,” said H to me one night, trying to make me feel better when I was beating myself up about it. I did a little research:  Jennifer Aniston and Cher kept popping up when I Googled “celebrities and fear of flying”.  I also knew, from attending a recent show (see previous post) that Whoopi Goldberg hated it so much she used an anesthesiologist to literally knock her out until she landed.   But despite finding other, more famous people with the same issue, it just doesn’t make me feel better.  I want to beat this.

So there I was. On a five hour flight from Aruba (I know, poor baby), rows and rows behind my family (much to my daughter’s dismay who is glued to me most of the time).  Normally, if two seats were together I would sit next to her; but this time I made up some excuse and said I would switch with Daddy soon (fully knowing I wouldn’t because I just had to do this).

I blasted my iPod when I first took my seat.  For some reason Annie Lennox and The Black Eyes Peas are my choices during take-off.  I ignore the “turn off all electronic equipment warning” by hiding my iPod earphones under my shirt. I can’t imagine how an iPod would mess up a take-off.  If it really does, we are all in trouble.  I read, I watched comedy on the little TV in the seat in front of me (Mike & Molly is a good show – who knew?).   I took solace in the fact that I knew I had some vodka in my carry-on bag but didn’t “go there”.  I happen to be sitting next to an unfriendly guy with a bad vibe so there was no small talk to distract me.  The flight was fairly smooth but of course I was still aware of every sound and movement.  I looked at the flight attendants here and there (“if they are not worried, then all is fine” a friend once told me) and I got up once or twice to say a forced-relaxed “hi” to my daughter (and H) and go to the bathroom.  There was no opportunity for him to reassuringly look at me during take-off, flight or landing.  There were no mindless games to play with my daughter.  None of my usual crutches and distractions were available; had it really been so long since I flew alone?  I think I even dozed off at one point.   I was psyched.

Had flying with my family all the time actually contributed to the prolonged sense of anxiety about flying?  Should I have continued working and flying all over the country as a Master of the Universe and to prevent flying anxiety (the more you do it…?)  I don’t think that is necessarily the answer.  I don’t think I would trade my hours now for anything in the world.

Thinking about my recent experience, I decided that it’s still okay to stick a little “crutch” in your bag (3 oz of vodka hidden in travel size shampoo bottle) “just in case”. As people are always telling me:  I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

I recently read a quote by self-realization author Guy Finley and it really is true. He says:  “That seemingly scary condition, whatever it may be, is not the problem. It’s your reaction that has you shaking. And that’s why, if you’ll become conscious of a fearful condition instead of afraid of it, you’ll change forever your relationship with fear.”

The fact is, we all have “our stuff” and a big part of it all is not so much fear but fixing how you react to those fears and hurdles.  Although I have fantasized about Whoopi Goldberg’s “knock me out till I get there” flying routine, I know it’s not the solution:  I want to fly all over the world with my daughter, by my side, fully conscious and present and enjoy it as much as what happens after we land.  And I think I am on my way — this stupid “sit alone” test was small but significant.  I just hope she keeps bringing those new iTouch games with her to distract me.  And, in the meantime, I will be changing channels frequently as they detail how Southwest and others are inspecting their planes for “cracks”  — just like I changed the channel when Charlie Sheen was being interviewed, again.

This week’s Getting Unstuck Sticky Notes

  • Your reactions are often worse than your fears.  Keep ’em in check.
  • Everyone has something in their bag; it’s okay to keep little things on you if it provides a bit of psychological comfort (maximum 3-ounces for flying!).
  • As often said on the52weeks.com, little steps are important and help you move forward.
  • Turn off the news sometimes.  Hearing some stories once is enough.

commentLeave a Comment (2)  

categoryPosted: 04/6/11 10:21 AM

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia F April 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Karen, while I can’t relate to your fear of flying, I can totally relate to how different it is to fly with your child than to fly alone or with business colleagues. Glad you got to experience at least some of what it is/was like to be alone on a plane. I’ve always preferred to travel solo and meet up with “travel” partners at my destination. This worked best when my friends were travelling from different cities — a bit tricky to take different flights when going to and from same city. Hope your fear of flying is a thing of the past.
And, I knew Mike and Molly was a good show.


Jami Kelly April 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Great post Karen and don’t hate me because I’m like your husband when it comes to flying! It’s the packing that makes me neurotic. 😉 Thanks for the nice read via iPhone on the crosstown bus, always amusing and thought-provoking! PS – I thought I was the only one who watched Mike and Molly.


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