Fear of flying


On Friday, I had a washing-hands-in-the-bathroom conversation with a colleague about the upcoming spring holiday break. I mentioned being hungry for travel and she asked “aren’t you afraid to fly?”

My immediate thought was “no, of course not.” I’ve come to think, though, that my quick response wasn’t completely accurate because I am afraid to fly on some level(s). But, I’ve been afraid to fly for decades.

The first terrorist plane crash of which I was aware was Lockerbie. I think it was 1988? As I, a college student traveling to London, was preparing to celebrate Christmas and jet out soon after, that tragedy felt incredibly close to home.

Flying within days of the Lockerbie disaster, introduced me to a new level of scrutiny and security. It came with a comfort that this type of terrorism would not be tolerated or go undetected.

All who have traveled have donated from their wells of privacy and dignity to make flying more secure. Safer. We take our shoes off, remove our belts and expose our medications and cosmetics in clear ziploc bags as we are processed.

But, for many years these kinds of terrorist attacks continued. I became increasingly less comfortable flying. The physical sensations of being in the air didn’t agree with me either. You know me, I’m more a two feet on the ground kind of person.

I began taking a prescription form of Dramamine which settled my stomach and reliably made me doze off. That helped.

Then came 911 and the silent blue skies that followed that unforgettable day. Later, there was the pilot who, apparently suffering from untreated mental health issues, flew into the Alps with a plane full of passengers just days prior to my son and I traveling to Germany for vacation.

I added some kind of “relaxer” pill to the anti nausea meds and consistently was able to sleep away much of my time in the air. I still was anxious, but only when I was awake.

And now, a full 15 months since I’ve last stepped on a plane, I have an upcoming flight. So – am I afraid to fly?

Yes, I’m concerned about being in a crowd and on a flight which will likely be full. I’m not excited about the uninterrupted mask wearing that will be necessary, but I’m happy to comply with this minor concession. My travel companion, S, and I will sip Prosecco on the train and I’m guaranteed to sleep through our relatively quick, nonstop flight.

S and I are both fully vaccinated and plan to spend most of our time in the desert outdoors. My JM (Jewish mom) is also vaccinated and has a lovely al fresco area for us to socialize in the mornings and evenings. We have no plans to be in large groups or indoors beyond our rental condo.

I’ve had a fear of flying for a long time. This new risk factor, Covid, isn’t to be taken lightly but there’s always a certain danger in traveling. I’m doing my best to minimize the peril while remaining cognizant that life is already inherently brief. The time feels right for this kind of trip.

Unlike the treatment for my travel induced nausea and anxiety, I’m pretty sure the only thing I’m going to need to take (in) to help me tolerate this newest travel discomfort is fresh air and sunshine.

5 thoughts on “Fear of flying

  1. With the expanded restaurant seating, I’ve picked up take out from a few places that made me uncomfortable just standing at the register. I’m not ready for a planes and trains yet. Loved flying when I was younger. Now it feels more unnatural. I still do it, but it doesn’t come up that often.

    1. We got lucky on the plane – we each had 3 seats to stretch out and socially distance. It helped, but I don’t think I’ll ever “enjoy” flying. I agree with you that it just feels unnatural.

  2. I am getting my second shot mid April, and then will start planning a trip to see my Mom, but the thought of it still frightens me….heck seeing all the cars on the road when I have gone out to grab some groceries was scary….I really think this last year+ has done a number on my psyche. But like you….I will go on a plane, and I will have to change planes minimally once, but will do what it takes to make the trip happen.

    1. You know, I suspect it will be years before we realize all the mental health damage caused by the pandemic. It isn’t possible to get through this unscathed, but I’m happy you’ll receive your second dose and get to see your family. Sending you good luck vibes for minimal side effects (but they don’t last long!) and safe travels.

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