by Beth Boswell Jacks
Landing is the first.” ~ Anon.
Hubby G-Man and I recently made a trip to the west coast of Mexico, compliments of my sister Kathy and her husband, Tom. They bought the trip at an Alzheimer’s disease charity auction and invited us to tag along. Always sitting on ready, we asked what time the plane was leaving and started packing.
The trip was challenging for Kathy because she hates flying. Not only does she hate it, she absolutely refuses to fly unless she gets strong urging. This is a woman who hovered 8 feet over the jungle in helicopters in Vietnam, who flew to Hong Kong and Bangkok alone, who crossed the Atlantic via plane a dozen times with little children in tow when she lived in Saudi Arabia, and who grabbed the last seat on a jet, escaping the scuds raining down on Riyadh. This girl has been in the air. She knows, intellectually, that airplanes usually arrive at their destinations just fine; emotionally, however, she’s a wreck till the wheels hit the asphalt.
Now me? I’m a hand-squeezer, but I have few reservations about strapping myself in and taking off to see the world. I figure I’ve lived 64 years, and I’ll go when I go. I’m like my friend BJ though: I’d really rather not go with 200 other people. Too much screaming and carrying on.
But I don’t worry about it much. I just march down that walkway like I’m not about to be hanging defenseless thousands of miles up in the air, zipping through the heavens like a bat out of hell, eating pretzels and leafing through the latest tattered Sky Mall magazine with its half-done, ink smudged crossword puzzle. It’s no big deal.
Ah, well, in spite of Kathy’s jittery condition aloft, she remains an excellent conversationalist, even when she’s shaking, but she won’t sit by the window – clouds make her aviophobia worse – and she won’t unhitch her seatbelt. She also won’t pop a pill or down spirits, so there she sits, frozen until a bump makes her flinch.
Last week, as our plane left the runway, I accidentally made that comment almost everybody utters as they take off: “I will never understand how these big things stay up in the air.” Kathy gave me a dirty look, and the line became a recurring joke all week.
So, the fact that my dear sister can joke that way means her phobia is not full blown – she’s simply what psychologists call a “white knuckle flyer.”
Kathy is not alone, either. Experts estimate 20% of us have some degree of debilitating flying fear (Pegasus Mind-Body Health site stats), but the facts should be reassuring.
The National Safety Council’s last estimates (2005) say our chances of dying by “air and space transport accidents” is 6,438 to 1. We’re more likely to be killed driving an automobile (260 to 1), riding a bicycle (4,098 to 1), choking on food (4,396 to 1), or drowning (1,060 to 1).
Those statistics, granted, are several years old and did precede the latest airplane window cracking and wire tangling. How many flights did American Airlines cancel recently during a four day period – several thousand? The bad publicity from that was enough to fray the flying nerves of even the most fearless among us.
But hang on (literally, ha ha), there are ways to overcome or at least diminish the fear of flying. The Pegasus site lists several possibilities, including hypnosis and counseling. Also, they say some airlines sponsor courses that “blend group support, relaxation training and factual information from experienced pilots.”
Well, that’s just dandy . . . if they can explain in simple language how these big things stay up in the air. Forget the aerodynamic stuff – just give us the facts . . . and a clean crossword puzzle.
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