Fear of Flying

Before my recent European vacation, I had not flown over the ocean in over 30 years. 9/11 had etched the image of airplanes crashing into the twin towers onto my brain cells. For over ten years, I avoided stepping onto any aircraft. Eventually I managed a couple of short flights to Florida, but the idea of crossing the ocean was unthinkable. Until one month ago.

I cannot say my first transatlantic flight was pleasant. In fact, it was far from it. I was so nervous, I couldn't eat for hours before heading to the airport. We arrived three hours before our flight time, as is recommended for international flights. No lines to check our bags and no lines at security. After the metal detector, I was x-rayed and then thoroughly groped. According to the TSA agent doing the groping, this was due to my necklace. Not sure why every wearer of turquoise beads warrants such treatment, but consider yourself warned.

By the time we boarded, then rattled into the sky, I was starving. And it was about 11pm, way too late to be eating dinner. I scarfed down the entire British Airways meal anyway--despite the strange texture of the "country chicken"--along with the free wine. Shortly after, I must have fallen asleep because I awoke feeling horrible: dizzy, nauseous, sweating, seeing spots before my eyes. A kind stewardess helped me to the lavatory where I was sick for the first time on a plane. Lesson learned: never eat any type of "meat" around which one must use "quotation marks." Also avoid cheap wine, even when free.

The rest of the flight was less exciting, thank goodness. At about 10 am London time, we landed at Heathrow. Unfortunately, only about 6 customs agents were working, while several flights containing several hundred passengers EACH had landed simultaneously and were ALL in need of processing. The line snaked around for what felt like hours but was literally 45 minutes. The building was hot and airless. My 86-year-old mother came close to fainting and decided that she would need a wheelchair if she were ever to go through this again. I can't say I blame her.

On the way home, I made fewer crucial errors. I wore zero necklaces, sailed through the metal detector without even removing my shoes, didn't get x-rayed nor groped. Instead of drinking cheap wine, I consumed approximately a vat of coffee before boarding. My eyes did not shut even for a second during the entire 8 hour flight. I watched 4 films back to back, ate only the safest food, didn't touch any "meat," and drank no alcohol. The only beverage I chose once on board was water. Although wired, exhausted, and my eyes were burning, I made it through the flight without getting sick.

I learned quite a bit about overseas air travel, but I can't say I'm psyched to jump on a plane and do it all over again. Was it worth it? Absolutely. My trip (once on the ground) was fantastic. I loved visiting both England and France, and meeting many relatives for the first time. I was treated like a queen, ate some of the finest and most interesting meals of my life, and even spoke a few words in French!

Is my fear of flying permanently cured? Probably not. But I've certainly proven to myself that I can do it. Even for an 8 hour stretch. Even over the ocean. If push comes to shove, I can do it again. There is no better cure than walking through fear and stepping off on the opposite side of the ocean!