“You’re a travel writer,” people say to me. “But you’re afraid of flying? How does that work?”
It doesn’t. A terrible experience happened to me, where a flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to Accra, Ghana, kept losing altitude for 30 minutes straight. Storm clouds surrounded us, and I couldn’t see anything. The captain didn’t come on the loudspeaker to say there would be turbulence, or sorry for the inconvenience, or that we were totally safe and not crashing to the ground due to a terrible malfunction. People were screaming the entire time. I was about to vomit when finally I saw a village through the thick, white clouds and realized we were safely landing.
I’ve never been the same since. I’ve gotten better, sure — I usually have to fly in order to travel — but I’m not totally cured. Not many people are sympathetic to this fear, however, and it sucks. I find these are good ways to upset someone who has a fear of flying.
Patronize me about my fear.
Don’t roll your eyes at me and tell me to “get over it” — this is a serious phobia some people have. I’d never tell you to “get over” your fear of dying alone, or accidentally ingesting pesticides because you ate a non-organic apple. Just because it doesn’t freak you out doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate cause of concern for others.
Rattle off the statistics.
I already know them all. I know you’re more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash. I know you’re more likely to spontaneously combust within the first 20 minutes of takeoff and the last half-hour before landing. I know air turbulence has never caused a plane to plummet to the ground, and that injuries occur only when people don’t have their seatbelts on during some serious airborne shaking.
It doesn’t change the way I feel about flying, and it never will. It’s not comforting, because those things aren’t the root of my distress.
Say, “It’s all in your head.”
Mind-over-matter my ass. This ain’t no “Yellow Wallpaper” psychological nonsense. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I would be afraid of flying. Despite the Ghana flight being over six years ago, I vividly remember the sensation of being pushed up, and plunged down, without knowing how far we’d fall. It’s not “all in my head” — it actually happened, and when I get on a plane, it’s hard to forget.
And I’ve done my research about turbulence, so obviously I’m not making it up when I tell you that because of the intense heat in Nevada, Las Vegas is one of the worst airports to fly into. Or that convection currents (hot air being pushed up and cycled back down at a rapid pace), based on incredibly humid weather, are what caused my horrific experience in Ghana. After the plane landed, a man who flies to Accra regularly for work said, “Yeah, this happens all the time. And you don’t get used to it.”
Deny me alcohol.
This is for you, flight attendants. Yes, I know that I can get seriously sick from drinking too much alcohol at high altitudes. But I’m not asking for a keg of Heineken — one mini-bottle every three hours usually does the trick. I need something to mix with that free cup of soda, to help me relax, and if you’re lucky, make me so drowsy I actually pass out on the tray table and don’t bother anyone else for the entire flight.
Refuse to hold my hand / talk to me.
I need someone to tell me it’s going to be okay. I need someone to distract me and ask me stupid questions. I need you to be alright with me grabbing on to you at the slightest bump. Why? Because if you don’t, things will get a lot worse for you. I’ll begin to panic. I’ll start screaming like a crazy person. Is that what you want to deal with on a 10-hour flight?
You best be holding my hand like we’re on a first date.
Tell me I’m not going to die.
When people have a fear of flight, a very tiny percentage of that fear is attributed to the actual idea that we are going to die. Mostly, we don’t like flying for other reasons: We’re claustrophobic. We don’t like germs. Some people are afraid of heights, or falling. No one really thinks we’re all going to die — we’re just really, really uncomfortable on a plane.
I personally hate the feeling when a plane loses altitude and my stomach ends up in my throat — you know, that feeling you get on a roller coaster when you plummet down the track at warp speed? I hate that feeling and I don’t want to experience it anywhere — on a plane, on a trampoline, on a trapeze, and definitely not on a roller coaster.