I’m a nervous flier, and by nervous I mean I’ve seen every single episode of Air Crash Investigation, and I will look at every individual bolt on the plane visible to the naked eye and wonder if it’s the right fit.
Despite having paranoid delusions about being in a plane crash, it’s amazing how fellow fliers will do their best to distract me during turbulence, or a turbulent landing, once they realise they’re sitting next to a crackpot. It speaks to the general good in people, and it’s not often we get to see that happening in small ways every day.
Most recently, I was flying back from Canberra during perfect weather. Now, normally descent into landing is my absolute favourite part of the flight (yes I know it’s the most dangerous part of the whole flight. Yes, I know it’s statistically the time when most things are likely to go wrong. Yes, I google plane crash statistics at work pretty regularly, and sometimes at home just for fun. Did I mention it makes for great icebreakers at parties? But descent means we’re closer to being on the ground). However this particular descent went from a bump-free flight to the most turbulent landing I could remember. I was white-knuckling the armrest from the start, graduating to a clammy hand grip on the seat in front of me.
How was this happening? IT WAS PERFECT WEATHER! At times like this, I curse the pilot for being a shitty lander, and I curse the plane carrier for not servicing their planes properly so that the net result is a bumpy descent, banked way up to the left.
During this, I happened to glance a few times (ok, every 20 seconds) from my aisle seat (easy to evacuate from in a crash, natch) over to the window to see how far we were off the ground. The woman sitting in the window seat eventually looked up at me, presumably wondering if I was intending to get her attention.
“Hi,” she said.
“Oh, hi,” I said distractedly. Stop talking to me and let me land this plane in my mind whilst I stare over you and out the window.
“We’re landing,” she said unnecessarily.
“Yes.. we’re still up pretty high though,” I said, stating the absolutely obvious.
At that point she realised I was just an idiot who hated flying.
“Yes, we are… but we’ll be on the ground soon.”
“Hmmmm.” Bump, bump.
“Are you from Canberra or Brisbane?”
“Brisbane. I had Christmas on the coast with family.”
“How nice,” she said. “Where?”
“Oh, Eden.” Gigantic plane shudder. Fuck.
“Um.. yeah.” I gripped the chair in front of me like my life depended on it.
“I was in Melbourne visiting family,” she said. “My grandmother passed away. Now I’m coming up here for a holiday in Byron Bay.”
“I’m so sorry about your grandmother,” I said. “That must have been hard at Christmas.”
“Yes, but it was coming for a while,” she said.
“Well Byron will be very relaxing for you,” I said.
“I hope so.”
“Are you going with friends?”
“Yes, a couple of girlfriends.” She sniffed and I must have looked even more terrified.
“Oh, I’m not crying,” she assured me. “I’ve got the flu.”
“Oh, right. That’s always the way – first day of a holiday and you end up sick,” I said. Bank, bank, bank.
“Ahh I know. But I’m looking forward to some beach time and some massage,” she said. Unbank, unbank, unbank.
“Well I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time.” I said. THUMP!
“Oh, we’re landed.”
She smiled. “Yes, safely on the ground.”
“Oh. Have a good holiday!”
This is fairly typical of travellers, I’ve noticed. I stare out their window like a sociopath and they talk me through the landing until we’re on the ground. One woman did this with her gorgeous 3 year old daughter sitting next to me, who was a much calmer flier than I was.
But every now and then, on planes as in life, you come across some disappointments. The first was when I was flying to Sydney for work, and the gentleman next to me did the usual question-asking routine to distract me from the fact that we were in the air (thanks!). However whenever I asked him anything, he’d demur. Are you travelling for work? No. For personal reasons? No. How long will you be in Sydney? A while. Ok… what do you do for work? Different things. At that point he pulled out a laptop and I assumed he was either an IT consultant who didn’t realise he was mildly socially inept, an ASIO employee, or a terrorist. The destination was the only thing I could get out of him and that’s only because, well, that’s where we were all going. But the worst experience I had was a flight to Melbourne, en route to the glorious Great Ocean Road. A four year old boy in the seat in front of me didn’t want to fly and nothing would change his mind.
“I HATE THIS PLANE!” he screamed.
“I’M GETTING OFF!”
My friend a few seats back called out, “Jess – is that you?” to the titter of fellow fliers.
“I DON’T LIKE THIS PLANE!” the kid continued to scream, emphasis on the “this plane”.
I looked nervously back at my friend. “Does this kid know something we don’t?” I hissed.
My friend snorted.
Cabin crew, arm the doors.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” the kid screamed in a fresh bout of terror. “NO! I’M! GETTING! OFF! THIS PLANE!”
I had to appreciate his single-mindedness. Kid, I want to get off this plane too. But both of us are getting shot up into the air in a giant tin can, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.
See you on the ground.