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By Narcissa Lyons


The fear of flight is mostly illogical, but logic goes to shit when you’re trapped in the sky hurtling in a huge metal bullet through blue, white, gray, and who knows what next.  It is the safest form of travel (22% safer than traveling by car, for instance),is manned by a pilot and a co-pilot who are not only highly trained but are also people who would like to get home to their families just as much as we do.  Safety regulations and security checks to prevent perpetrators of evil are, if not state-of-the-art, improving regularly in modern airports.

But then why do up to 35% of us cringe, sweat, cry, tremble, drink several cocktails prior to getting on a plane?  I can’t get a good bead on the real percentage of those who fly in fear since the research out there is remarkably sketchy, and it’s a tough number to get anyway since the level of fear ranges from unease to outright panic, and inevitably flight avoidance.  There’s the obvious.  A machine that weighs 500 tons or thereabouts has no business defying gravity regardless of the four principles of Lift, Weight, Thrust and Drag. Then there is the very legitimate fear that the wings will snap off if there is too much or shocking turbulence (admittedly legitimate per me).  One decent drop would surely snap them right off.  Let’s face some other facts.  There are millions of parts that make up these beasts (6M+) and how can mechanics notice everything that might be awry—that the Loctite on several key screws or a more critical component only has one flight left.  I suppose a plane is made to lose a few screws and there are about 3 million rivets but where and when is the cracked up limit?  Partially consoling is that ticket prices clearly indicate airlines are out to make scads of money, so making top notch equipment is essential to keeping customers.  Literally.

I don’t know when it happened exactly—that I began to fear flying, because that was not always the case, almost far from it.  I used to fly back and forth from Ohio all the time since that’s where I attended university.  Didn’t bat an eye.  Occasional rigorous turbulence might have put an annoyed expression on my face because it was tougher to read my bouncy book—but that’s all.  I’ve thought about it a lot because my fear, while as yet not debilitating, is noticeable and requires a valium prescription to tame it if only just a little.  And let’s just say there have been “episodes”.  What changed?

Fact One: Youth ignores mortality.  Fact Two: Having children immediately brings mortality to the forefront. Fact Three:  Aging and getting wiser also crystalize the meaning of mortality.  Fact Four: 9-11.  Fact Five: (the last and the largest):  We have all contemplated the many awful ways there are to die and most have concluded that being in a plane that crashes is in the top one.  I don’t have to explain the first three facts, but Fact Four is an interesting one.  Many people have been affected by 9-11 and how it relates to flying, it’s just that it’s an added dimension to the fear of flight/crashing itself.  We now also look at some faces and worry about explosives or weapons having gotten through security,  although dying by simply exploding in the sky would still beat Fact Five.  We do not want to think about just how horrible our death will be as we plummet, seemingly endlessly with G-force galore, to the earth even though we know the impact would  be quick and thorough.

I love to travel.  Many of us do.  And I think flight is beautiful, pilots laudably schooled, viewing lit up cities from above breathtaking.  Just wish getting from point A to point B did not involve Fact Five.