Facing the Flights Again

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Two transatlantic flights, two trans continental and two short flights completed in the past 4 weeks. For most people that is a lot, for someone with a fear of flying that is even more. I have gone from no flying at all for nearly 10 years to all of that in a month. Facing fears, baby. Note: just because I faced the fear and did the flights it doesn’t mean I now like flying.

Why did I do such a thing?

I started last year in the summer to plan to try to fly again. I had realized that I was tired of being afraid of planes and started with a 2 hour flight to Greece and scheduled a train ride home. Then I met Ali and the impetus to fly became much greater. The primary reason to do the aforementioned trip was to get married to the most wonderful woman I have ever met. She has written more about our love story at her site.

Love conquers fear. I had been working slowly on flying again before I met Ali, but I would have not attempted such flights without her support. I did the two transatlantic flights alone as well as one of the short flights, but she flew with me for the rest.

Airport Bars Know Their Clientielle

In order to get on a plane and manage the fear I had been prescribed low dose Valium by my German doctor. It seems to help keep the panic from hitting. I don’t actually feel that much different mentally but that ability to relax and ride through the fear is stronger than the urge to panic and freak out.

I did however decide to try a flight without it. The last short flight from Raleigh NC (my hometown area) back to Atlanta was only 50 minutes long and Ali was with me. So I decided to skip the pill and go with just a beer and see how I could do.

So we get through security with 35 minutes to spare before the flight. Walking down the concourse we look for one of the many bars in the airport. Sitting down we only have to wait a few seconds before a guy comes to take our order. I order a beer and she a rum and coke. Then we get questions from the waiter that make me realize how well they know the clientele.

“20 ounce or 14 ounce beer?” he asks me. Ok, a pint is standard and 16ounces. So they are service nearly a pint or a pint and a quarter. The questions on the mixed drink are even more interesting. He offers to make it a double for a few bucks and then asks short or tall. I haven’t been drinking in the US for a long time and never mixed drinks, but it struck me that people in airports may well just be interested in getting drunk faster. Maybe I am not the only one with flight anxiety, I just deal with it differently.

Perhaps the reasons for the bigger sizes and stronger drinks are purely economic, but I am heartened by the idea that there are plenty of people out there that have a time flying. Many people that I talk to about having a fear of flying talk about drinking to help cope. I have even heard of one who drank in addition to the Valium doses. I haven’t tried that yet, but I will likely get more opportunities.

Airport beer tastes better

Ups and Downs of Flight

“How were the flights?” is the most common question I have gotten after “How was the wedding?” The wedding was perfect. The flights however left some to be desired. The seat back TVs are a godsend for me. Being able to watch anything even bad late-night comedy shows helps ignore the little bumps. That I could watch a movie all the way to the ground on landing helped so much on the longer flights. I am so sensitive to the changes in the plane that at landing time i get freaked more easily.

Coming home we hit a thunderstorm over the Atlantic. 45 minutes of bouncing made me again happy for the TVs. It was early enough in the flight that the Valium helped keep me calm enough to just hold and (and pray) without freaking too badly. Though I was so surprised to see people amidst this still get up for the bathroom. Here are a few other things that I learned in my flights:

  • MD-88s are too small to fly lower like the tiny commuter flights and not big enough to be really stable.
  • For me seeing the ground helps. If it is only a layer of clouds far below me or no window whatsoever(why would you even put seats there?), I get more freaked out.
  • I am really sensitive to the tiniest up and down of the airplane. Sinus infections make this worse.

Obligatory TSA Mention

There is FAR more security and barriers and such in the US than in Germany. There isn’t even a form to fill out coming back to Germany and yet I didn’t feel unsafe.The prohibition against fresh fruit makes some sense in the airport, but on the land border with Canada it seems silly.

I once got picked for the full body scanner in the trips and decided we had enough time to spare so I opted out. I was a bit freaked out about the flight and the idea of a machine like that made me more nervous, so I decided to get patted down. In the end, it wasn’t an awful experience. The TSA guy explained everything both before and as he was doing it. I didn’t feel violated. The patdown was in public at the end of the security counter, but he offered right away if I wanted it to be private. I was happier to be in view of both my wife and my stuff. It felt somehow more safe than if there were no witnesses. So not really something I will choose as fun, but not the horror stories of the news.

The Future?

Well I still hate flight and will continue to take the Valium pills. Even when I was flying regularly before I started having panic attacks, I never liked it. I will however continue to face the fear and take flights when necessary. I will likely go down to New Zealand at Christmastime to be with Ali as a part of her travel in southeast Asia. This would mean 24 hours in flight in two jumps of roughly 12 hours each. So I may get my chance to try a beer along with my lowdose pills.

15 thoughts on “Facing the Flights Again

  1. Pingback: Off to the Wild Blue Yonder » Grounded Traveler - Expat Adventures in Germany

  2. Congrats on your wedding! I hope Ali is enjoying living in Freiburg. I’m lucky that I’m not afraid of flying, but I know a lot of people who are. Interesting about all the options at the airport bar, but I guess it makes sense and a drink or two, really can take the edge off.

    • Thanks for the congrats. Ali will be here in a week. She is finishing up a few things in the US before coming. When she gets here we should think about a SW Germany tweetup.

  3. Facing these fears can’t be easy. However, I think you have grown and learned more about yourself in this process. And I think you will agree, taking these flights is well worth it!

    I have to admit I am not the most easy going flier. I can get stressed out over turbulence. However, I don’t panic and don’t fear flying. I guess I am somewhere in between. Ironically, I really enjoyed flying to and from Vancouver. It was such a great flight, an easy flight, I got some work done, and it was nice to be on a plane again. Don’t think I’ve enjoyed a flight that much in a long time.

  4. Not grossed out at all 🙂 I think your story is super cute guys!

    Congrats on making it through all the flights without bigger problems. They’re just a way to get were you wanna go faster and will make your (travel) life so much easier. Especially since the inner-European low-cost companies have great offers from time to time!

    • The thunderstorm coming home was the worst part of the whole flying thing. Unfortunately when it really is that bouncy, noone is around to get you a beer. If I had seen flight attendants being calm, I would have been calmer myself. Not to mention the drink.
      Yeah, we have been looking at all the places you can get to within an hour or two from Basel.

      • Thunderstorms make me feel weird too on planes… I heard though that no plane has ever had problems because of turbulence which is what I keep telling myself whenever it starts getting shaky while intensly focusing on my TV series on my netbook 🙂 Have fun looking for for new destinations from Basel!

        • That is interesting Sabrina, I will have to ask one of our pilot friends. Though maybe better not and just attempt to believe it anyway. I am so totally with you about letting the TV absorb my attention for as long as possible until the shaking stops.

  5. I am so incredibly proud of you for facing your fear time and time again. I know flying will never be fun for you, but I’m glad you now know you can do it. It will make seeing the world so much easier, and soon it will just be that annoying thing you have to do before you get to see something amazing. Or the annoying thing you have to do before you get back to your own comfy bed. Thank you for flying to the States so we could get married here. I love you! (Anyone grossed out yet?)

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