Flight Fraidy Cat


Raise your hand if you’ve ever been stuck in the seat next to the person who has a fear of flying.  You know this not-so-jet-setter.  Common signs of this flyer include:

  • Rapt attention during the safety features demonstration.
  • Repeated perusal of the safety guidelines.
  • Expression of an audible, “Oh, oh, oh!” every time the plane banks to make a turn.
  • Bracing themself against the wall and the armrests, as if this will somehow keep them from falling out of the (very intact) plane window.
  • Quick jerking of their hands to the armrests when there is turbulence.
  • Obsessive observation of rowmates to assess their level of calmness (or panic, really).
  • Obsessive observation of flight attendants for the same reason.
  • Excessive sweating.  (No, they did not spill their drink on their lap.  Sweat is natural, ok?)

This flyer is annoying.  Occasionally amusing.  She makes for great storytelling to your friends during happy hour.  You figured out I’m this flyer, right?  Y’all, hear me out.

Everyone points out the extreme safety of planes.  They’re the safest form of transportation!  Thousands of flights happen everyday without incident!  I get it.  I really do. But when something finally does go wrong, that is one really horrible, horrible situation.

But you say, “Kate, look at the statistics!” There’s only  a 1 in 19.8 million chance that you could die!  You would have to go on 70,000 flights before an issue would crop up! Y’all, if I bought Powerball tickets and began imagining my schedule as a retiree sipping on Arnold Palmers as the ripe age of 28, why would the flight odds make me feel better?

You might also say things get better the more you fly.  I’m here to tell you that isn’t true.  As someone who frequently has four flights and sometimes six per week, it just Doesn’t. Get. Better.  It’s that odds thing.  Surely, I’m increasing my odds of being on that plane that has the issue.  Kind of like buying 200 lotto tickets instead of one.

There are also a lot more wackos out in the world today.  How many crazies were flying in the 50s versus how many are flying now?  A lot more, that’s how many.  That little old man with the straw hat and pictures of his grandchildren doesn’t fool me.  He probably has explosive toothpaste in his carry-on.

In the end, the only thing that makes me feel remotely better is the airplane instrument thing.  Our cars have maybe one gauge on them.  Ok, maybe three.  A commercial airplane has probably, oh,  50.  Actually I don’t know this.  Are there any pilots out there reading this blog?  Can you confirm?  Actually, I might not want to know.  Let me go on thinking there are at least 50 gauges.  Nobody answer this question unless you can tell me there are more than 50.

This is all to say, try not to judge me when I drink my Bloody Mary and toss back those anxiety pills at 7:30 A.M..

Are there any other fear of flying comrades out there?


26 thoughts on “Flight Fraidy Cat

  1. I can SO relate: I fly all the time, I’ve been flying since I was just a wee lass, and there’s nothing about it that’s new to me…but damned if it doesn’t scare the everliving shit out of me on a semi-regular basis. The two three things that have helped me the most are 1) trashy celeb gossip mags and/or crap novels that I can get easily engrossed in, 2) being able to listen to the flight deck through the armrest radio (for me, at least, knowing what’s going on goes a long way towards soothing my fears; if I hear the pilot joking with air traffic control when we hit turbulence, then I breathe a lot easier knowing that they’re like, “Oh, moderate chop, NBD”), and 3) when all else fails, Xanax. Or a cocktail. But not together, obvi.

    • How did I not know you can listen to the flight deck through the armrest radio?! Has this always been? I need to check it out. “Oh, moderate chop, NBD” may be the new phrase I play over and over when things get rough…

  2. I am a “seasoned” flyer, including 4 flights between Australia and the US, and there is nothing I hate much more than being in an airplane. On one flight I was so afraid that the kind, old (not creepy) man next to me felt compelled to hold my hand till I felt better. About 20 minutes, so I was the creepy one who wouldn’t let go.

    A bump and I’m praying to all the gods for forgiveness and safety, depending on perceived outcome.

    I have another 10 hour flight coming up in 2 weeks and it’s all I think about. Even worse, for 2 hours, I have to be on a little commuter plane with no overhead storage, aka, the worst of all the planes.

    • I’m chuckling over here at my local Starbux. I can so relate! There was that one flight where I burst into tears before we took off, the guy next to me (secret service, no less!) had to comfort me for the entire flight. Thinking of you on your flight (which you’ve either taken or are taking soon). Gawd, I would be a freakin’ mess on that commuter plane.

  3. Me, me, me. I recently had to fly and I did most of the things you mentioned. And also when I assess people around and fail to notice any of them panicking I just assume they are too stupid to be aware of the dangers of flying.

  4. I’m flying to France in September and my doctor has kindly prescribed me Ativan to make it a little easier. I took my first plane ride a few years ago and it was to Florida, and lots of Ativan was needed! I was a mess before getting on the first flight… I’m not scared of crashing, or turbulence, I get anxious because I can’t tap the pilot on the shoulder and ask him to pull over the plane, because I NEED to get off. It just doesn’t work that way, and that’s what gets me. Sorry to the other passengers sitting next to me on my 6 different flights to and from France.

    • It’s kind of that control thing, right? This is part of my issue. I can’t determine when we start or stop of how the flight is carried out. Your trip to France will be amazing, tho, so at maybe you can distract yourself by thinking of how fabulous a life you’re leading while the rest of us (read: me) are schlepping away at our day jobs.

  5. You bet, been there, done that… It took me quite some time to get there, but once I discovered anxiety pills the whole thing got sooo much better! You just gotta love drugs…

  6. I’ve been flying since I was about 2 years old and I am many (*sigh) decades old now and here to tell the tale.

    BUT… when I hit the tween years, it was UNCANNY how my mother could always manage to dredge up a DREADFUL plane crash article just before I was due to get on a plane to spend the summer with my grandparents. She claimed she didn’t do it on purpose, but it happened far too frequently to be simply coincidence.

    As a result… I am now very anxious when it comes to plane travel. And I always end up sitting next to someone with a litany of complaints that is seemingly on neverending loop throughout the flight (I am not speaking of white-knucklers…. I am talking about the person who complains that SOMEONE is wearing too much cologne and SOMEONE reeks of cigarettes and complains about the price of the Tahitian Tee Hee drink that was $15 because it used up about 15 of those little airline alcohol bottles to make).

    If you win the lottery, though… you might want to hire a tour bus (think rock stars). That way you can take a friend or two along on your journeys and your biggest hassle will be finding adequate parking.

    • Yah, you know I might be the crazy on the flight, but at least I’m not the complainer. Those really are the worst. There was the one person who kept complaining to the flight attendant about the temperature, then repeatedly adjusted their airflow. Hmmm, tour bus, I like it! Isn’t there some celebrity who bought a tour bus and does exactly that thing?

  7. I’ve done my fair share of flying, both domestically and long distance and I also have my fair share of scary stories to tell. Try this one where I was to fly back home to Germany from JFK and we were all the way up near Greenland when the captain announces that the altimeter is broken and he’s not willing to fly all the way across the open sea without knowing what height we’re in. I’m wondering: how the heck did you know we weren’t almost crashing into some mountain up in Canada if you didn’t know our altitude?!?!
    Anyway, I’m always anxious and I believe it’s for these two reasons:
    1. Like you said, there are so many crazies out there who do get on planes, you just never know… (like that one dude who looked like a terrorist allright and didn’t have any carry-on and was nervously pacing around before boarding and… why would you not have ANY carry-on unless you didn’t mean to… never mind)
    2. I cannot control and/or judge what is going on. When I’m in the passenger seat in a car, I know how things work and I can yell out “Red light!” or “Watch out” and I know what’s too fast and too risky. In a plane, I can’t see what happens (if we’re bound to crash into another plane because the captain is busy telling naughty jokes to the flight assistant) and I don’t know which turbulences are risky and which are just daily business.
    My coping strategy: make sure I tell everyone I love them before I depart (just in case…) and take my mind off of things with in-flight entertainment.

    • Now this brings up a good question… should the pilot ever alert the passengers of a malfunction? I mean, I guess if it’s something minor, it might make sense rather than allowing the passengers to create their own reasons for why we might be returning to the airport. But I’m the type that goes from ‘minor, small issue’ to ‘we’re going down in a fiery crash’ no matter what the pilot says. And if they could stop announcing the altitude, that would be great. I don’t want to know that we’re 30,000 feet in the air.

      Your coping strategy also = smart. I do the same thing. 🙂

  8. I am this type of flyer as well, it is so annoying! Everyone keeps telling me about the statics and etc, but I just can not relax! And I have to fly to Brazil at least twice a year, it’s a real pain for me.
    By the way, loved the blog 🙂

  9. G – thanks for the compliment! How long is the flight to Brazil? And yah, statistics are only comforting for so long and then it’s right back to terror town.

  10. My fear of flying was late to begin. I used to fly all the time and I loved it! It was a nice time to listen to music, read and relax. The last couple years my anxiety level in planes became increasingly worse until now I can’t even picture the inside of a plane without getting stressed out. The really odd thing is, I’m not scared of crashing, it is more the fact that I’m in a tiny, cramped area, next to strangers and there is no escape.

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