Thursday, February 19, 2015

Indiana Jones and the Flight from Hell

I used to be a great flier. 

Left my bag in California? Whatever. Delays? Cool. Oh, you want me to sit in the middle seat so you can have the aisle? Heck yeah!

But not so much on a particularly bad time in my life, a few years ago, I happened to be on a flight back home. I had broken up with my not-so-nice boyfriend, I was still mourning for the lose of my grandmother and brother and I was ready to quit my very stressful job.  And that's the exact moment we hit turbulence. 

It was the roughest flight I've ever been on. A drop would come so deep and sudden that the rest of the passengers would gasp or let loose a small cry and grab the walls or the seat in front of them. We were instructed not to leave our seats (no really, not even to pee...) and to put anything heavier than a short paperback novel under our seats. Flight attendants, stay seated; no drink service today. My normally steel-stomach was suddenly not but jello. I had a death grip on the arm rests and had my feet wedged under the seat in front to keep me stable. And for the first time in an airplane, I felt gripped by a paralyzing fear. I felt like I was going to die. I couldn't breath. A panic attack. I had had one before so I knew what I was in for. 

I allowed myself a few tears, a couple gulping breathes and then with everything I had, I pushed it way, way down. Not healthy, not happy but better than getting tazed by the air marshal. I held my breath until it subsided enough so I could get control. I took a puff from my inhaler. Hold. I repeated a mantra that I still use to this day. "Smooooooooooth" over and over again under my breath as I breath out through my mouth, in through the nose. It was 3 hours of hell. 

I never quite recovered from that. I'm still not a great flyer. I fear dying and leaving my parents and friends behind in a horrifying grief that I know so well. I fear the pain of a violent death. I fear not having control over my own end.  

I have to remind myself of some important things. First and foremost, travel is worth it. It's half a day of stress for 3-4 weeks of wonderful adventures.  Second, I think about Indiana Jones.
Indiana was flying to far off lands in the 30's and 40's. Commercial flights back then were so very different. Malfunctions, crashes and other terrifying statistics were much higher. (Something I won't get into since I am currently flying as I write this...) And not to mention the fact that commercial flights didn't use the jet stream until after the war which meant much rougher air and much longer flight times. (On my last trip to Hawaii, I found a framed advert from a 50's magazine claiming "LA to Hawaii in only 10 1/2 hours!" Woof.) 

So when it gets bumpy, I think of Indy and how he wouldn't think twice about these little ups and downs. He would just tip his hat over his eyes and fall fast asleep. At least until Willy starts screaming.

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