Summer’s upon us. Sunny weather, the skies cloudless most days (unless you live in San Francisco, I suppose) seem friendly, and what do you do with friendly skies? You fly them, of course. Unless you’re me. How friendly is cramming into an aluminum tube among hundreds of other angsty, temperamental travelers? This year I’m saving money on airfare by not bothering with it, for the most part. No big money spent, at least. Greece will have to wait until next June, and the farthest I may venture is Seattle.
I’ll admit to a fear of flying, though I’ve flown many times. Unlike most aviophobes, however, I’m not so afraid of the plane falling out of the sky, though that does creep into my mind. I’m more claustrophobic than anything else. In the days and hours before boarding a plane, my mind is in a tailspin of dread. Already, I’m nose-diving through cloudy scenarios of missing my connecting flight, getting stranded in some realm of the in-between, lost in some foreign airport with no way out like Tom Hank’s character in The Terminal.
What’s the big deal, you ask? I know the stats: air travel is a lot safer than riding in car. You’re about as likely to die via lightning strike than you are via craft equipment failure or hijacking. Alas, I subconsciously equate the narrow corridors of busy airports with hospitals, having spent a portion of my childhood on the operating table due to a chronic medical condition. So for me, as for my aviophobic protagonist in “Wings of Wax,” stepping into the check-in line is a bit like waiting in a queue at the emergency room.
Back in 2003, I traveled alone for the first time during a trip to Greece. Flying from San Francisco to Amsterdam, I had an eight-hour layover before connecting to Athens. Did I go sight-seeing before continuing on my journey, explore the airport’s duty-free delights at least? Nope. I sat, most of the time, rigid with a vague fear sending tremors through my belly. Finally, I made it to Greece unscathed and had a wonderful three-week visit with family. The joyous stay was tainted, however, by worries over the trip home.
Funny story in that regard: Before I left, one of my many uncles packed a gift in my bag for when I returned to the States. He didn’t tell me what was inside. No biggie, right? Right. …At least not until I was handed the customs card halfway through the return flight. Oh, no! I needed to declare the mystery item. Failure to do so, in my mind, equaled a humiliating body-cavity search by customs agents in San Francisco!
Turns out, of course, it was no big deal. The mysterious package contained cookies, I later discovered, treats no one cared were in my possession. In hindsight, I almost felt insulted by that. Damn good cookies, they were!
A few years back, on the return leg of my most recent trip to Greece, I was due to fly from Athens to New York before connecting to a San Francisco flight. The Athens departure was delayed as a result of bad weather in NY, and when I eventually landed at JFK Airport (Transport Hell) my flight had been cancelled due to the storm! Stuck in New York! My heart pounded, my head went light (in case you haven’t guessed by now, anxiety tends to be an issue for me). Right then, however, airport personnel whisked me toward a departure gate. My flight was due to leave after all, possibly without me. Boarding the plane at last, I’d never been so happy to plop into a coach seat.
Next summer, I plan to travel to Greece with my lovely girlfriend, Katie. She actually likes flying. Maybe we were destined to meet so that, among other things, she could help me conquer this phobia. For those flying this summer, I wish you friendly skies! Maybe, as you ascend, think a few good thoughts for us firmly stuck to solid ground.