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.
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.
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.