My ability to deal with planes is like the doors on that game show where you just never know what’s behind them until you open the door and get mauled to death by a ferocious monkey or rained on by a million dollars. Or maybe that show didn’t have killer monkeys. I don’t really remember. People dressed up in crazy outfits though, right? Like giant fuzzy dice and my favorite martian? Anyway, I guess my ability to deal with planes isn’t anything like that at all, since I almost never end up with a million dollars. And I rarely wear the fuzzy dice outfit.
What I’m trying to say is that I never know how I will react. And I seem unable to control it at all. I try my best. I do everything I can, but then the moment comes and it’s either OK or it’s not. I always freak out, at least a little. And I know that I need to get to the airport early, because any amount of stress could topple me right over the edge, and I know I’ll feel very bitchy at any setback, because deep down I feel it’s a sign that the trip is doomed and it’s all going to be that ticket agent’s or security screener’s fault because they jinxed me and now the plane will fall from the sky in a fiery inferno of death and screaming. Those are just givens.
But sometimes, I’m actually OK in the plane. And I can talk like a normal person and look out the window and appreciate the clouds and sky and barely notice the thousands and thousands of feet of empty air between me and the ground. But then there are other times.
P. and I went to LA this weekend. It was a short trip. We flew down Friday night and came back Sunday night. For the Friday night flight, the Xanax knocked me on the ass and there was nothing that could bother me. We boarded the flight and then were told the plane had a mechanical problem. We had to get off the plane and get on a different one. I didn’t even give a thought to my superstitions. We boarded the second plane. I vaguely remember the woman sitting next to me telling me that she liked my shirt and then I don’t remember anything else until suddenly we were about an hour into the flight. P. asked if I wanted some tequila. Sure, I wanted tequila! The flight attendant carded me. I guess I look young when I’m drugged out on Xanax. But then she didn’t charge us. I asked P. why not. He said that it could have something to do with us changing planes and then sitting on the runway for an hour and a half while they moved our bags and fueled the plane. An hour and a half? I had no idea.
I was awake for the landing, but I didn’t feel even a twinge of panic. I guess I was saving it all up for the flight home.
On Sunday afternoon, we got to the Long Beach airport and discovered that our flight was a little late. That was the first jinx. And then we found that the earlier flight that had been scheduled to leave at 11 was now not leaving until 6 at the earliest because of mechanical problems and our flight was jammed full of people from that plane. Another jinx. We talked to a woman who flew down on Wednesday and had the same get on the plane, mechanical trouble, change planes experience that we had on Friday. I looked out the plane being worked on. What was wrong with Alaska’s airplanes? Then I overhead a guy talking. He worked for Boeing. Sure, the planes were in perfect technical shape when they left the plant, but how well they did depended entirely on how they were maintained.
I decided I’d better take a Xanax. But I only took half because I didn’t know how long our flight would be delayed and I didn’t want to pass out before we boarded. As we waited in line to get on the plane, I started hyperventilating. P. suggested I take the other half. I cried during takeoff. I don’t think either half ever kicked in.
In addition to Xanax and alcohol, there’s one other thing that gets me through these flights. My Bose headphones. They help in two ways. For one thing, they block out all the engine noise. I don’t feel quite so claustrophic and constantly reminded that I am on a plane going very very fast, with the extremely loud and powerful engines constantly surrounding me with loud and powerful noise. It’s a reprieve. Also, because they cut the engine noise, I can hear the pilot when he makes helpful announcements. Normally, the pilot sounds like this: “Well, you probably want to know that –garble, garble, loud engine noise, sound of something falling off– so we’ll keep you updated.” That freaks me out a little. I like to hear the tone of his voice, to gauge if it’s false hope or if he really thinks everything’s OK. I want to hear every word he says, even if he’s just telling me to look down at Carson City.
So, I was already feeling a wave of great panic as we began our long, terrifying, endless descent, and at every bump as we hit clouds, I knew for certain that we were only moments from death, and the flight attendant, surely drunk on his own power, walked by and brusquely told me to take off my headset. As I formulated a thought and tried to process his insane request, he apparently didn’t think I was moving fast enough and even more rudely told me to take them off right now and then he stormed off.
That moment put me over the edge. I had been barely hanging on to my sanity by the thinnest of threads: trying not to cry, trying to breathe, trying not to think about the fiery inferno sure to overtake us at any moment and that was all I had. I was holding my book but could no longer handle even having anything in my hands. I threw the book (it bounced off the back of the seat in front of us and P. quickly took it and put it away before I could bludgeon the flight attendant with it). I threw my headphones. I squeezed my fists. I tried to breathe. I didn’t work. P. kept telling me it was OK. To take a deep breath. To be calm. I just kept repeating over and over again that I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it.
I told him, as calmly as I could that I hoped he could bail me out of jail because I would surely be arrested. I would not be able to stop myself from going over to that flight attendant and asking him why exactly it was that I could not wear a headset that was not attached to anything. It was not obscuring my ability to hear instructions; instead it made that easier. It wasn’t attached to a portable electronic device. And as to whether it was one itself, well, it operates from a watch battery. If it needed to be turned off, he’d better tell everyone to turn off their watches as well. I’ve never heard of watches being disallowed.
Not to mention that I have flown with these headphones from at least four years. And many a flight attendant has seen them on my head during take off and landing. Apparently, they were a problem only for this one person who at that moment, I hated more than I had hated anyone in my life.
And in that one surge of panic, I had to get off the plane. I had to never be on a plane or in an airport again where you not only had no control over getting off and on, but you were in control of nothing. The minute you walk into an airport, you give up all rights. If you question anything, you can be arrested. You have to take off your shoes and your belt and let people look through your bags and your wallet and feel your breasts. At that moment, it struck me as being the most outrageous thing in the world. This flight attendant could take away the one thing that was keeping me sane, while on a huge machine that could kill us all, and I could do nothing about it. I coudn’t even question it. I told P. that I could never fly again, ever. I couldn’t subject myself to this again. (He, of course, agreed with everything I said. “Of course we’ll never fly again. Of course that guy should be fired. Of course I’ll bail you out of jail.”)
And while I realized I was being irrational, illogical — frankly crazy, I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t calm down, I couldn’t be reasonable. When the plane landed, all I could think about was getting away, and P. kept ahold of me the entire time, streering me off of the plane and away from the target of my irrational rage. It was a bad moment. The anxiety attack didn’t really subside until after we left the airport. Even then, I was having difficulty breathing calmly.
It was like I opened the killer monkey door. Which means surely, next time I fly, I’m due for the raining money. Right?