I wasn’t always, mind you. When I was twelve years old, my childhood girlfriend moved up to San Francisco. I flew up to see her over the summer. I loved gazing out at the clouds and the Matchbox cars on the roads below. I even liked the burst of power as the plane ascended into the sky. I grinned when the plane touched down with barely a bump.
Flash forward to 2005. My husband and I were taking our sons to Williamsburg and Washington, D.C. It was the big family vacation. Since we were on a budget, my husband looked for the cheapest flights. We ended up changing planes three times. Three times! We changed in Utah, which was uneventful, though we did have to run to catch our next plane. The next touchdown was in Atlanta.
Now, Atlanta in the summertime is about as bad as Chicago in the winter. Thunderstorms every afternoon. And what do thunderstorms bring? Turbulence. On our descent our plane hit an air pocket and dropped like a roller coaster on the downhill. My younger son, a Tower of Terror aficionado, squealed with glee. I squealed with horror. We landed without incident, and ran to catch our final plane to Richmond, Virginia. I figured the worst was past us.
The plane was a commuter: two seats on either side, maybe sixty passengers, tops. After the landing turbulence on the big plane, I was sure this one was too small; that it would disintegrate when it hit cruising altitude. It didn’t help matters when the flight attendant began moving people around to “distribute weight evenly.” Seriously? I became a basket case of nerves. And the last straw was, as we taxied down the runway, my husband looked out the window and said “Aren’t those our suitcases down there?”
Our luggage came on the next flight, and we enjoyed our sight-seeing. Our return flights were without incident, yet my fear of flying was wedged deep in my heart. For five years we only took driving trips. My husband wanted to go all over the country, but I told him if we can’t afford direct flights, I wasn’t budging.
Then in the spring of that particular year, he surprised me with a trip to the California wine country, a forty-five minute direct flight. I clutched my armrests and jolted with every little bump of the plane. But the flight was short and perfect in every way. So that summer he convinced me to fly up to Portland, Oregon for a trip in the Pacific Northwest. That was a two hour direct flight, and smooth as silk. Again, I relaxed a bit more.
You get the picture. He began booking flights to places where we wouldn’t have to stop and/or change planes. The trips were less than three hours. I’ve enjoyed them all.
Now he’s tempted me with a trip to England. I’ve wanted to go to England since I was seventeen and in a high school British Lit honors class. I’ve always said no because of the daunting ten hour flight. I mean, that’s a heck of a long time for someone who’s still a little afraid of flying to stay up in the sky!
Yet, oh, how I want to see everything I’ve read about. Shakespeare’s birthplace. The Tower of London. Stay overnight in a real castle! I just have to fly there to do it.
I’ve agreed to go this coming September. We are setting the plan in motion, talking to a travel agent. Looking at castle B & B’s. I’m so excited to finally go. But I’m already obsessing over that flight. What could happen? How much turbulence will we experience? How will I stay in my little seat for TEN hours?
My husband and the travel agent say we’ll fly at night so that we can sleep on the way there. Really? I don’t know if I’ll relax long enough to be able to sleep. I’ve got to help the pilot fly the plane, after all.
The easiest decision would be to cancel our plans and fly somewhere in the U.S. Keep the flight short. But then I would be limiting myself. And limiting my husband. I don’t think that’s something I want to do. To allow fear to keep me from going to a place I’ve always dreamed of going would be giving in to my weakness, permitting it to win. Despite my knocking knees and twitching fingers, I know I’m made of stronger stuff than that. I’m just going to have to dig deep for it, find that inner fortitude that’s playing hide and seek with me right now.
Besides, who knows? I may find that blockbuster plot while walking through an English village, or wandering the halls of a castle. I won’t know unless I go.