Posted: April 28, 2015 in Flying
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A US Airways Airbus 319

I don’t fly much.  I’ve taken to the sky a few times in the last couple of years, which is more than in the previous eight years combined, but I generally don’t travel much and when I do, it’s in a car with me behind the wheel.  With me in control.

My nephew, of whom I’m so very proud, graduated from Pitt this last weekend. Since I was so graciously invited to attend the festivities, I flew out there for a three day jaunt.  I had a great time, thank you, but I’ll admit that the events that held my attention the most throughout the weekend all involved airplanes.  The closest airport to me is Mitchell International in Milwaukee, and there are no direct flights with any airlines from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh so the entire round-trip required four take-offs and four landings.  We stopped in Chicago, at O’hare, on the way there… then flew to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh to catch another flight home.  This caused some minor amusement for me… as Philly is farther from Milwaukee than Pittsburgh.  Hee-hee.  So be it.

But like I said, I don’t fly much.  And although I am not really afraid to fly, I have found, in the past as well as now, that the longer I go between flights the greater the anxiety I feel for the act.  I still marvel at the fact that human beings can fly at all, let alone at 30,000 feet at a speed of Mach 0.78.  Sometimes I think it’s all just a grand illusion… or a trick… that planes are just advanced elevators or something.  Maybe once you board, an experienced ground crew just changes the scenery so that you think you’ve gone somewhere new.

Anyway, there have been several occasions — one this last weekend — when the plane is barely off the ground and climbing, maybe at an altitude of two thousand feet, where I have mildly freaked, my mind racing, thinking, “Holy Shit!  What the fuck is keeping us up here??!”

Of course, nobody can see my irrational thoughts, and I have a great poker face.  No one can tell by my body language or a look on my face that I nearly just shit my pants at the very beginning of a two-hour flight.  It’s now that I casually look about the cabin at the faces of those people that obviously travel all the time, because they’re already lost in a book, or an android-game, or they’re already asleep, as their gaping mouths are a tell-tale sign of slumber.  Asleep!  Already??  The damn gear isn’t even up yet and you’re already approaching REM?  I snicker.  No way.  That guy just shit his pants and he’s hiding it by pretending that he isn’t scared to death.  He’s got a better poker face than me.  Well done, fella!

Once we’ve leveled off I generally feel better.  Then the turbulence starts.  Tiny potholes in the sky.  Just where does our tax money go, anyway?  I’ve heard of turbulence being so severe that passengers have hit their heads on the ceiling.  Nothing like that has ever happened to me, in fact, I think I’ve been truly blessed on the flights I’ve taken, but a particularly moderate bout of turbulence on the way from Chicago to Pittsburgh caused a kindergarten-age boy across the aisle from me to exclaim, “Gee, the roads in the sky sure are bumpy!”

That’s right, kid.  I blame congress.

So what’s the worst part of the flight for me?  The part when we get back to earth.  Airplanes are built to fly.  And if you want to stop flying, then you need to alter the plane in ways that the plane doesn’t want to be altered.  You need to put the nose down for the gradual descent.  You need to reduce speed… a thing that seems like a horrible idea to me.  And then once you’re down, the flaps on the wings get into crazy positions and the engines reverse thrust and you pray that this monster of a machine will stop before it goes off the end of the runway.

Well, I pray for that, anyway.  Apparently, the guy that shit his pants at the beginning of the flight has just shit them again.  His eyes are closed and his mouth, agape.  What a wuss!

But not all of my childish feelings toward flying are negative.  I get the science for the most part… lift, torque, ailerons and wing flaps… but I’m always in awe of the engineering of it all.  Smart people — people waaayyyy smarter than me — found a way for an animal that can’t fly to fly.  To use an overused word, it’s awesome.  Awesome, as in, it inspires awe.  Only things like the science of flight should be allowed to attract the use of the word, “awesome.”  I feel like a kid again when I’m in a plane… and there are few things in life that do that for me.

  1. Occraz says:

    I’m going on a plane in a few days for the first time in fifteen years. I share your anxiety, but trust that science will save me!

  2. Haha! Such a funny and engaging read.

  3. roykat says:

    I used to fly very often as a child. I took my first flight to Florida when I was four or five years old, and we took regular family vacations to Disney World every few years until I was eleven years old. I had a lot of fun on those flights, and my favorite part was landing.

    Unfortunately some time has passed since my last flight – I think I was 16? – and before then I had not flown since that last family vacation. I was scared out of my mind. It’s funny how your comfort zone can change so much in just a few years.

  4. Turbulence is the big one. During my time in the military even the rough rides of old cargo clunkers never phased me. And now in this more modern age, my “brain” senses every pothole in the sky. Nice post.

  5. Funny stuff. I fly fairly frequently and don’t think about any of this stuff. But thanks to you, I will next time. And I may just shit myself.

  6. Pre- 9/11/2001 did anyone board your plane dresses like a plane hijacker from the movies? My first flight on business that happened. Spent the entire flight from Springfield, MO to Chicago, IL’s O’Hare airport barely breathing. Ended up landing the job, but had to fly home again! No more weird people on the return trip. Ended up flying on a regular basis with the new job. Got to see many wondrous sights, like the grand canyon, fire in the sky at DIA in Colorado. Can’t fly like I wanted to when I was little, because I am color blind.

  7. Reading about your turbulence experience reminded me of a flight I took, a while back, from Chicago to London. It was an eight hour flight with turbulence all the way, we were strapped in for the entire flight, no food, no drinks, just strapped in. A hell of an experience, did not stop me flying though.

  8. I think you know too much about flying. I was not aware until reading this about the relative danger of landing the plane compared to just flying it. Ignorance is bliss.

  9. OldenGray says:

    My favorite way to travel is in the air with qualified, certified and competent personnel. I believe that many girls and boys became pilots because it would be their dream job. What a fascinating reason to go to work. I’ve had AK47’s stuck in my face, engines blow up and landings that were so hard that the stewardess announced that we just attacked that particular city. Have flown on top of luggage and in the luggage compartment, but always knew the people flying those planes do it because they love it. I asked a pilot flying small commuters about his confidence in the maintenance work. He chuckled and returned with, “I always take the same mechanic up with me for a test run whenever something major is replaced”.

  10. OldenGray says:

    One other thing. During one particular flight something went wrong with one of the two engines. The pilot followed proper protocol and requested, from the tower, to return due to mechanical problems. We did so with his expertise and knowledge. He mentioned one thing that I was not aware of. He said, “When pilots are landing an aircraft, they land with the thought of taking off more so than landing because if anything goes wrong, i.e. an aircraft in the way of landing etc. they are prepared to put the bird back up, in a heartbeat. I have experienced many such landings and appreciate knowing that they are totally in control of what they know and love doing, and not afraid to make such decisions no matter what anybody may think or say.

  11. Bearshaman says:

    Equal parts astute and humorous; I love it!

  12. Aurora says:

    remind me to comment on this later!

  13. Andrea says:

    I’ve been on and off planes since I was 12 (so for 25 years), and I just returned to Seattle from London on Sunday. I’m used to spending 10-12 hours on a plane – without a layover. Still, over time when I board a plane (or just in the days leading up to a flight), I feel that anxiety, that shaking feeling of what-if-something-happens. I head back to London at the end of June, and then most of my journeys will be by plane (as the UK is an island, at some point I’m going to want to get off), and I know that I’ll be hiding just how much I am not enjoying the experience. While my husband snores beside me.

  14. Max says:

    I loved flying I used to every week to get to my job on an RAF base! Got into my blood. I was really pissed when I was diagnosed with ME I had to stop my private license training. Now I just write about flying! An other thing I’m not flying in those ‘flying cinemas’ counts as flying?

  15. jeminik says:

    I can really relate to the idea of how people are so casual at being on a plane at such altitude, i feel we over look these details once we become habituated to it but it’s actually really cool!

  16. bumblingzzzz says:

    Alright I’ll be that guy if there hasn’t already been one. Bet the recent news stories hasn’t put you off planes huh? lol Sorry. lol That good though. And I totally get what you are saying. When I really think about I think about that stuff too when I’m on a plane. Crazy how modern technology and science has come from.

  17. Susiewoo says:

    Thanks for this one Eric – you reminded me of the nerves I used to suffer when commuting every couple of weeks between the UK and Switzerland a few years ago which has given me fodder for my own blog as it reminded me of my own fears!

  18. I thought it was just me! Beautifully done.

  19. Susan says:

    Oh I can relate to this! I hate flying, I’m terrified, that bit about looking around the plane at passengers faces, I do that, but look at the crew, are they looking worried? Are they making secret signals to each other?
    My fear is so bad, that where ever I fly to, the trip is ruined, by all my worrying about the flight home!
    . Susan.x

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