11: Plane Panic

See how this Swiss snail clings to the surface? That is me and mother earth. I do not like to leave the ground.

I hate flying. I always have. I am practically positive that should I loosen my grip on my airplane seat’s armrests, the entire craft will plunge down. Only my willpower and perpetual prayers keep that giant hunk of metal aloft. My brain does not think this. Just the rest of my body does. This makes short-haul travel a wonderful workout in isometrics, but overseas flights one big anxiety-washed muscle spasm.

There have been times in my life where we flew so often that my plane panic was forced to go from acute to chronic, which meant I was always in a moderately elevated adrenalin state, whether in flight or just anticipating one.

The air, way up there, gives me a scare.

When we took this overseas job, I blithely told our kids we’d fly back often for Christmas, Easter, maybe even Thanksgiving. I had blacked out my air-terror, which is why I was able to say this and think it was true. Once on the other side of the ocean, the prospect of multiple trans-Atlantic flights weighed me down to earth, literally. I contemplated taking an ocean liner ride home, but then came a few Italian/Greek ferry disasters, and the media blitz marking the 100-year-anniversary of the Titanic sinking.

But that is all about me, and where I will be in 11 days, clinging to a plane seat, counting the rows to the nearest exit,* checking the life jacket underneath – which, by the way, I really do check these things, and note to Air Canada: All of your inflatable life vests are past their expiry dates. Please do something about this.

* Two Real Crash Survival Tips You Might Not Know:

  1. When you take your seat, count the number of rows between you and the nearest exit, and make a mental tour of such a trip. If you do survive a crash, the compartment will be full of smoke and you will have to crawl down the aisle, should there still be an aisle, clutching and counting chair-legs as you go to find the exit. I’ve interviewed crash experts who described how people have died in plane crashes not because of the crash, but because they made some very human, but very fatal choices. One of those was to try to exit the plane the same way they had come in. This is a natural behavior and one that kicks into auto-pilot in a crisis. We do what we know, so if we know the way in was to our left side of the plane, we are more likely to head back along that route, even if that side is a crumpled mess. People have died in planes trying to get out of one side, while there was an open door within spitting distance to the other side. Yes, I think of these things.
  2. Don’t sit up straight and do not stand up. If the airplane is afire anywhere, the air atop is full of toxic fumes that can kill you immediately on the first breath. Crawl your way out.
  3. This sounds stupid, but when you take your plane seat, latch and unlatch your seatbelt several times and fix that motion in your mind. People have a lifetime of experience with push button seatbelt closures in their cars, but airplane seatbelt latches are the pull and release type. In a moment of panic, people try to do what they’ve done many times, which is the car-seatbelt release. Many who perish in plane crashes are found still strapped in their seats. If you think doing a repeat latch and unlatch exercise is silly, consider that emergency services personnel, police and military use repetitive exercises to make a maneuver into second-nature. There’s a reason it’s called second-nature. It’s because your first nature is to mess things up.
Here’s some fun links about air travel and safety.

Real Advice for Real Air Travellers

Wake up and find out your plane is missing? 

Dress for Disaster and Other Air Scare Survivor Tactics

53: Sweet or seriously stupid?

The canal is deeper and the water shallower than it looks in this photo.

Look at this happy couple smiling for the camera that records their folly. The woman is balancing on a rolled railing, her center of gravity perilously supported by this young man who does not look malicious in anyway, but his joy suggests he is not truly aware that his lady love is a mere 2-lb. push away from a 15-foot drop down a sheer cement wall to the canal floor, a fall that will be cushioned by 10-inches of water and a bed of baseball-sized stones.

I almost write: What idiots! But then I remember all the stupid things I did as a youth, things that were just as dangerous and yet did not appear so at the time to my inexperienced mind.

Even now, decades later, some memories float back to me recast in the light of a whole whack of information on innocent missteps gone horribly wrong – memories that make me gasp, slow down, think twice, turn back.*

I’ve seen this young couple since, embracing on a bench where the greatest danger is an 18″ fall on a floor of weeds, cigarette butts and dog poo. It is a yukkier prospect, fecal-matter-wise, but one from which they could race back home on their non-spinal-injured responsive legs.

*The truth is I still do stupid things sometimes, although none that involve perching over a steep drop.