Each weekend David McMahon at Authorblog asks a question and asks readers to answer it on their own blogs. This week’s question is here.

The question is: Are you a nervous traveller?

Most of the time I would say that I am, but if it is a car trip and I am not driving, I am not nervous at all.  However, if it is a trip in which I am going to be driving all day with just my girls, then I am nervous.  I have no idea about what I am nervous , but I usually have difficulty sleeping the night before the big trip.  It is a strange phenomenon because I do not mind driving.  Just my neurotic uptight personality, I guess.

But my real nerves come when flying somewhere.  If it were not that flying is so fast and convenient, I would probably never do it.  I actually used to love it and had no fear whatsoever, but sometime in my twenties I was in a plane (a Cessna something-or-another with one engine and six seats, though I would not have volunteered to have the 5th or 6th seat!) owned by the company which employed me.  This trip was an all-day journey from southwest Missouri to Michigan and back, the purpose being to pick up two passengers in Michigan.

The trip began wonderfully.  I loved flying, and it was exciting because it was going to be a stormy day.  The weather radar showed cells building all around us.  On the way to Michigan, I sat next to the pilot with headphones on so I could hear what was going on.  Periodically we would get close to some cells, and turbulence would cause us to gain or lose a couple hundred feet of alititude at a time.  We were being buffeted like a feather in the wind, and it was exciting.  I would watch the radar and hope we would get closer to more cells.  I imagined myself taking flying lessons. The clouds we flew among were enormous, and the combination of their beauty and the bouncing made the flight seem like a surreal amusement park ride.  I was enjoying every second of it.

After picking up the passengers, we headed back.  I was relating to the passengers my exciting version of the trip so far and telling them how much fun I was SURE the return trip would be.  (Famous last words.)  We all settled in with our own good books and water handy.  Small squeals were heard when we hit good bumps.

The number of cells around us started increasing rapidly, and it came to the point that we were constantly in cells, trying to avoid the worst ones.  Still having entirely too much fun, I was hoping we could not avoid them because it was such a blast to bounce around in them.  The clouds were no longer pretty, however.  They had closed around us to make the scenery little more than grey.  Then, through my headphones, I heard we were headed for a tornado.  Now I have always wanted to see a tornado; I grew up right next to a “tornado alley,” but had never seen one.  But the nerves started to intrude at this point.  For one, it was so stormy and cloudy, that I did not think we would be able to see it unless we were IN it.  As much fun as the bumps were, the tornado did not seem like something that would be fun.  I suddenly was thoroughly unimpressed with slipping through the air with no visibility.  (And all thought of flying lessons bounced out of my head somewhere along the line.)

We never saw the tornado, nor did we get caught in it.  But my cavalier demeanor had already diminished, and it seemed there was no end in sight to the storm.  We were continually bumped and battered.  I was not terrified, but it was not exactly pleasurable anymore.  Then there was the Giant Bump.  Our little plane that had been previously flying with wings parallel to the ground was now flying with wings nearly perpendicular to the ground.  We apparently lost altitude during this as well because I remember all our water bottles being suspended in mid-air for what seemed like 3 minutes, but I know it was probably less than ten seconds.  The pilot did not “right” our plane in less than ten seconds, however.  Again, time was standing still, but it took more than a few seconds to get us flying level again.  I remember seeing the determined look on his face as he put all his strength into holding the plane as steady as he could.

No one knew, but my head was a mess the rest of the flight.  I prayed repeatedly for a safe landing, pretty sure my prayers would not be positely answered.  I watched the radar like a hawk to see what was ahead.  The pilot requested a different route because ours was so dangerous, but there were no. other. ways.  The storm had grown into a massive severe thunderstorm so big that going around it would mean running out of fuel.  My white knuckles clutched the armrests as we made our way home.

When we got below the clouds, it was calm.  I could not believe we had endured such turbulence and came into such relative calmness.  I did not kiss the ground when we exited the aircraft, but I wanted to.  The pilot who always had a terrific sense of humor said, “Cheated death again,” as we pulled up to the terminal.

Since then I have never liked to fly.  It is a necessary evil, and I do it, but without the least amount of joy.  I do not drink, but I always get on a flight and say that I am ready to take up drinking.  It is usually better than I expect it to be, but my nerves have never completely subsided. 

But what makes it worse is all the sounds and smells on commercial airliners that have no explanation.  When I am on a plane and hear a loud noise, then smell smoke, and no one bothers to say anything, am I supposed to just think all is fine?  Am I the only one on the aircraft that is concerned at that moment?

 

The last time I flew was with Prince Charming to Winnipeg for our 10th Anniversary.  One of the sounds I heard was an alarm bell.  No explanation.  If it is not something worthy of alarm, one would think they might not make it sound like a 5-alarm fire.  Another sound was the captain pushing his “ding” button for some kind of signal to the flight crew or possibly the passengers.  It is my opinion that there should be a card in the seat pockets that gives the meaning of all noises and signals.  To me, a briefing of what noises mean what from the flight attendant rather than how to buckle my seatbelt might be useful.  When that “dingy” noise happens five times rapidly, that sounds a little like some sort of trouble brewing to me.  What is different about when it happens four times than when it happens five times?  What if it is only twice?  Call me crazy, but I want to know what all that means! Maybe if we knew, we would all be screaming in a panic.  (I wouldn’t because I panic quietly in my head–but just as violently as those screaming loudly.)  But I cannot help but think that if I knew what those sounds meant, I would be a little calmer.

Because here is the strange thing.  Although it was a bad experience on the little Cessna that made me terrified of flying in the first place, I would still prefer to fly in it than a big jet.  At least on the little plane, I can see the instruments and hear the radio traffic and know everything is fine.  Clearly everything has been fine on the big jets as well (or I would not be here writing this), but NOT knowing at the time ties my stomach in knots and makes my knuckles ache from clutching the armrests so violently.  Probably the right answer is Xanax, but I have never tried that.  I am pretty sure if I did, I would be a vegetable upon arrival.

What I really want to use is a transporter like in Star Trek.

by Louise Cannon

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