Prescription for Disaster

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

I'm not the best flight companion

I remember a lifetime ago on a flight within China on China Southern airlines, watching the safety video that came on before takeoff. It ran through the usual spiel of “here are your exits”, “this is an oxygen mask” and “put your mask on first before helping someone else” and then gave a video demonstration of “how to prepare for an emergency or crash landing” (this caught my attention).

The first image was labeled “what to do if you are normal” (this is when I knew that at the very least, the video was going to be highly entertaining), and showed a person of average height and average build bracing themselves in the standard air crash position of head down, hands on the seat in front of you and knees tucked in. I was once told that this position is not so much to save your ass, but to preserve your dental records. How nice.

The second was “what to do if you are holding a child”, and showed a woman holding a baby to her chest, leaning forward with her head tucked down and one hand on the seat in front of her. All very standard, aside from a bit of odd Chinglish phrasing now and then.

It was the third that threw me:

“What to do if you are very fat”

And the video showed an overweight person sitting upright in their chair and gripping the arm rests for dear life.

Now, I’ve always been afraid of flying, but that really didn’t help. Nor did the time a small plane I was on lost power and regained it after about a minute of silent coasting.  Or on a plane to Hawaii over the ocean a man was carried to the back of the plane, dr’s were paged, but he never returned to his seat. Or the time that lightening hit our plane directly where my mother and I were seated – directly across from the flight attendant jump seats – when the 3 flight attendants proceeded to freak out, get on the phone to the pilot and lean over me to check the wing and describe it to the cockpit crew in Chinese. All three of them were whispering madly in Chinese and I could see real fear on their faces.

And when a flight attendant looks scared, you know you’re screwed.

We lived, the plane continued on its’ route and everything seemed fine, aside from when we landed we were held on the tarmac for a good 40 minutes and when we were finally released onto the tarmac a portion of the plane (where we were sitting) was covered and shielded from our view.

So it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a nervous flier, even though I’ve never really been through anything horrible on a plane. However:

1.     I’m always sure that the toilet is going to suck me out of the plane.
2.     I’m always nervous that the floor in the bathroom is going to drop out of the plane with me on it.

So I avoid going to the bathroom on a plane at all costs. And as most of the flights I take are over 9 hours in duration and I have a habit of drinking water like it’s going out of style, this creates problems for me.

Also, since I avoid going until I’m at risk of wetting my seat, I end up going toward the end of the flight when the bathrooms are the most horribly overused and under cleaned – and for a bathroom germophobe like me it’s pure hell. I end up waiting in line, anxious as all hell (see point 3 below) and as soon as the door opens I take a deep breath, hold it, dash in while trying to avoid the suspicious wet spots on the ground, roll up my pant legs to avoid the pee puddles all over the place, knock a roll of loose toilet paper into the toilet with my elbow, pull down my pants and hover over the seat while not touching anything, finish, close the lid, run my hands under the water that I’ve turned on with a paper towel, unlock the door and at the same time that I flush the toilet I burst out of the bathroom, gasping for breath with my pant legs rolled up to my knees. Not a lot of people seem keen to go in after me. Usually they decide that they can hold it and turn back to their seats.

So while I’m not the best person to fly with, at least I’m entertaining.

3.     I’ve heard about these things called “air pockets”, and I’m convinced that we’re going to fly into one at any given time.
4.     So I don’t take off my seat belt. Ever. And if you make me take off my seat belt I’ll give you the look of death. If you make me take off my seat belt and then take too long (by my standards) to get out of my way so I can get it back on, I’ll push you.

But if you accidentally grab my seat belt instead of yours and take too long to give it back, I’ll shank you.

5.     I’m always convinced that the next flight I take will be the death of me.

Yes, I’m that lunatic that counts to one hundred and eighty during take off and landing. (I’ve heard that the most dangerous times during a flight are the 30 seconds after takeoff and the 30 seconds before landing – counting these out make me feel as though I’ve survived and cheated death yet again. I’m always very proud of myself after 180.)

Before flying I make sure that my husband and children know how much I love them, and that I want my husband to re-marry, but still raise the twins as vegetarians in my honour.

I have serious issues with this, clearly. On my recent flight to Seoul, South Korea I openly wept in my seat before takeoff (which is possibly what prompted my row-mates to put on their SARS masks) thinking of Paul and the twins and how much I missed them, and that I’ll probably never see them again.

Leaving the house in the morning was pure torture, kissing of my sleeping daughters thinking that it may very well be the last time I kiss them or that they even see me – wondering if they are too young to remember me if I die a fiery death in the next few hours.

I’m that person that scans the other passengers in the gate area before a flight, gauging the potential of the plane to go down based on our ensemble of the population. If a set of monks are waiting at the gate I feel instantly relieved, surely god’s not going to take out a monk in an aerial disaster. I look for people who look kind of like they could be terrorists, I look for people that look like they could be deranged, and I look for people that look like they may have a severe communicable disease. When the pilots board I quickly scan them and watch to see if they are walking in straight lines to determine whether their morning coffee was regular or Irish, and I look to the flight attendants to see if they seem nervous, bored or relaxed. But I always get on the plane, regardless.

So here I am, yet again, on another flight. By the time I get home from this trip I’ll have taken 8 planes in 6 days. Fantastic for anxious fliers like myself. So I’ll sit here with my seatbelt tightly fastened and my heart racing while the man sitting behind me sneezes loudly into my hair (that I just washed today, thank you) and horks up phlegm into a water bottle secured to the back of my chair. (It’s like flying with a hayfever-ridden camel) but secure in that my husband and children know how much I love them.

And how much I hate flying.

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