In case you were wondering what it’s like to fly on an airplane with me, it’s pretty much like this:
I am terrified of flying. Seriously. Even just glancing up and seeing an airplane in the sky as I’m happily going about my daily business makes me feel queasy. Whenever we go to the airport to pick up or drop off a friend or family member, I think, Better you than me, buddy. I’ve taken the train all the way east to Halifax and all the way west to Edmonton because I refuse to fly. Friends will suggest taking a vacation together to some exotic locale, and I just laugh. If they want to go on vacation with me somewhere exciting, then they’ll have to sit in a dirty, smelly bus to New York or wherever for hours on end; they sure as hell aren’t going to manage to drag me anywhere with palm trees.
I don’t really know where my fear of flying came from. There was actually a time when I loved everything about air travel – from walking along the airport gangway (I don’t know why, but this part always seemed very exciting), to the thrill of the moment when you feel the airplane lift into the air, to the tiny over-packaged meals that taste like reconstituted cardboard. For a kid who spent four gruelling days every summer driving from Ontario to Nova Scotia and then back again, flying seemed like nothing short of a luxury.
All of my flying experiences were positive until the winter of my second year at university, when I was flying from Halifax into Ottawa. Everything was lovely and normal until we hit some kind of air pocket or something and the plane suddenly dropped like the dead weight it was. The actual drop was over pretty quickly and the flight continued as if nothing had happened, but I couldn’t help feeling shaken. To make matters worse, the girl beside me began crying hysterically, saying that her father was in the air force and she’d flown a million times and had never experienced anything like this and we were all going to die. Helpful, right?
Anyway, we landed without further incident, and other than spending a few hours feeling very grateful to be back on solid ground, I didn’t think much about what had happened for the rest of my holidays.
Then, on my way back to Halifax, I realized that two of my close friends were on the same flight. I began to think about how sad it would be if our plane went down and we all died together; how our group of friends would mourn us, maybe even build a memorial. Then I started to think, Aren’t we descending a little quickly? We’re not even over Nova Scotia yet!
Embarrassingly, it didn’t take much for me to go from wondering why we were starting our descent so early to, Oh God, we’re all going to die.
I’ve been afraid of flying ever since.
The last time that I was on an airplane was when we flew to Paris for our honeymoon in 2009. I managed to convince myself to get on that plane by telling myself three things:
1. I needed to fucking suck it up if I ever wanted to visit parts of the world that weren’t accessible by Via Rail.
2. God would not let Matt and I die on our honeymoon.
3. If we did die, at least it would be romantic. We would be forever remembered as the couple who died in a plane crash while on their honeymoon. Also, we would probably die happy. Right?
I prepared for this trip by doing two things: going to my (prescription-happy doctor) for a bottle full of Ativan, and watching Mayday marathons. Mayday, for the uninitiated, is a documentary show about airline disasters. I figured that it would be helpful to know some of the things that could potentially go wrong during a flight; plus, once I knew enough about airline disasters, it seemed possible that I might be able to avert them. For instance, I learned from Mayday’s episode about Aeroflot Flight 593 that you should never let children fly a commercial airplane. If I were on a plane and saw that happening, I could be like, You guys, this is a bad idea. Total hero material, right here!
A few minutes before we boarded our flight in Montreal, I popped a pill. They were the sublingual type, meaning that they melt under your tongue and enter your bloodstream faster. Once we found our seats on the plane, I took another pill because I still felt anxious. As we began preparing for takeoff I took yet another pill because, although I felt woozy, I definitely still felt anxious. Shortly after our plane lifted off the ground, the safety video began playing on the tiny video screens on the backs of the seats in front of us. Something was wrong, though; the video kept re-starting, and finally the screen just went black.
I started to cry.
A kindly flight attendant noticed my distress and came over. The following is a basic approximation of the conversation we had:
Kindly Flight Attendant: What’s wrong?
Me: I’m sorry, I’m just a really nervous flier! And right now I’m freaked out because the safety video isn’t working.
Kindly Flight Attendant: Oh, don’t worry! Those things have nothing to do with flying the plane. They’re not connected to the engine or anything like that! Plus, the entertainment system is kind of flaky. In fact, some days it doesn’t work at all!
Me: Well what about Swissair Flight 111? That went down because the entertainment system overheated and caused a fire. HOW DO I KNOW THAT’S NOT WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE?
Kindly Flight Attendant: …
Kindly Flight Attendant just walked away and didn’t say another word to me for the whole trip.
Naturally, after that encounter, I had to take another pill.
After that, I fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until we were flying over the UK. We started our descent, which is weirdly the least frightening part of flying for me – it means that we’re either going to be landing soon, or else it won’t be long until we die a fiery death. Whichever way the dice land, at least the anticipation is over!
Once we landed, I was still feeling a little out of it, so I decided to get a coffee. As the guy at the airport cafe poured my drink, Matt noticed me dumping fistfuls of change into their tip jar. He politely yet firmly asked me what the hell I was doing. I told him that I was giving them our Canadian change, because we wouldn’t need it anymore. Because we weren’t in Canada anymore. Duh.
I guess the Ativan might have had more of an effect on me than I’d thought.
We ended up spending a wonderful week in Paris once I’d gotten over my drugged state. I ate my weight in croissants, drank a lot of cheap but delicious wine, and basically decided that Paris was my favourite city of all time. I am an obsessive planner when it comes to travelling, so even though we only had seven days in the City of Lights, I created such an air-tight itinerary that we got to see pretty much everything we wanted to. I also made it my mission to take pictures of every single statue of Joan of Arc that I could find (because Joan of Arc is the best, obviously).
Of course, the only bad thing about taking a trip to Paris was that we had to come home at the end of it. Which meant that I had to get on a plane again.
No big deal, I said to myself. I’ll just take a bunch of Ativan and pass out again.
And that’s what I did.
Or, rather, that’s what I thought I did.
It wasn’t until a few weeks after our trip that Matt mentioned a show that we’d watched together on the plane. I patiently explained to him that I’d never watched that show with him; I’d watched it with a friend in Halifax earlier that year. He kept insisting that we’d watched it on the plane, which kind of freaked me out, because I’d obviously just married a dude who a) had hallucinations or b) thought it was hilarious to lie so obviously and conspicuously to me.
After another few minutes of arguing, I finally said, There’s no way that we watched that show on the plane. I slept the whole way on both flights.
Matt looked at me like I’d grown a third arm.
No, you didn’t, he said, you were awake for the entire flight back.
Even as I kept insisting that he was wrong, I began to feel a wave of horror wash over me.
I hadn’t slept on the way home. I’d been awake the whole time. I had absolutely no memory of this.
I began interrogating Matt with a Spanish Inquisition level of intensity. What had I said to him? How had I acted? Had I seemed like myself? Did I take off my clothes or do anything else embarrassing? Could he give me a play-by-play of the entire eight hour flight?
His answers were less than comforting. For example, he told me that I’d been talking to the woman next to me for a good chunk of the flight. Naturally, I asked what I’d been saying to the woman. Matt just shrugged and said, I don’t know, you were speaking French.
I WAS SPEAKING FRENCH IN THE MIDDLE OF AN ATIVAN BLACKOUT. I WAS TALKING TO STRANGERS IN FRENCH AND NO ONE HAS ANY IDEA WHAT WAS SAID.
I begged Matt to tell me that I’d at least stayed in my seat the entire flight and not bothered anyone other than the Francophone woman next to me. I really needed to know that he’d kept an eye on my altered-state self the whole time.
He thought about it, then said that at some point I’d gotten up to go to the bathroom.
Did you follow me? I asked him, hopefully, desperately.
He just rolled his eyes.
The thing is, for all he knows, the minute I was out of his sight I started taking off my clothes and/or making out with the flight attendant. It’s possible! Literally ANYTHING is possible.
I told him that if we ever flew again, it would be his job to follow me everywhere, up to and including into the tiny airplane bathroom.
Of course, when I said that, I had no intention of ever flying again anyway.
You guys, having a phobia of flying sucks. Like, it sucks badly. First of all, every single person that you know feels the need to tell you that more people die in car accidents than in airplane crashes. Every time someone says that to me, I’m like, Whoa, really? You are the first person to ever mention that to me! Thank you! I’m cured!
No, but seriously, the next person to tell me that will get – well, they’ll probably just get a dirty look, but what I want to do is way worse than that.
I know that my fear of flying isn’t logical. If it was logical, I would probably be over it by now. I would just talk myself out of it. I am the master of talking myself out of things. You should see how well I talked myself out of cleaning the bathroom the other day. I did it in like five minutes! So that’s really not the problem here.
Logically, I know how safe airplanes are. I know how unlikely it is for anything to go wrong on an airplane, thanks to my sister-in-law, I even sort of know how they fly (hint: it’s not by magic). But even though my mind knows all those things, it has made an executive decision not to give a shit about facts and to go on being afraid. Thanks, mind. Thanks a bunch.
I hate not being able to fly. I hate that there are so many places that I might never visit because of my stupid malfunctioning brain. I hate that anytime I go someplace far away it takes me fifty years to get there, whereas it would take the average, flying-capable person an hour. I feel like I’m missing out on so much, and I don’t know what to do about it.
I guess I could do the Ativan thing again, although the idea doesn’t thrill me. It’s not so much the blackouts that scare me (well, they might scare me a little), but the fact that a lot of my anxiety happened in the weeks leading up to our flight. Also, in spite of all the drugs I took, I still felt pretty scared on the plane.
Another issue is that now I have Theo. I can’t imagine flying with Theo and Matt; not only would I be totally useless as a parent, but for Matt it would be like dealing with TWO toddlers.
Basically, what I really need is for someone to just knock me out anytime I have to fly, like B.A. Baracus on the A-Team:
If that means that I have to wear a lot of gold jewelry and say “I pity the fool”, well, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
In all seriousness, what I probably actually need to do is start taking short flights with people who are super chill about flying. People who will hold my hand and tell me that everything is fine and/or tell me to shut up about dying already. I need someone who is willing to put up with my bullshit for at least an hour, probably longer when you factor in the trip to the airport, checking in, going through security and waiting for the flight to board.
I guess that what I am saying here is that I am now accepting applications from people who are willing to put up with my bullshit for a minimum of four hours. COULD THIS BE YOU? Apply within!
p.s. I’m not willing to share my Ativan, even if you’re brave enough to fly with me. I will need the entire contents of my pill bottle, and possibly more.