Buckle up, because you’re about to go on a spectacularly average ride through memory lane as I attempt to address my sudden fear of flying.
I’m not sure how it happened, as I’ve loved planes and travel since I can remember. Growing up, I would obsess over travel magazines and documentaries, dreaming that one day I could travel the world. My mother did well to get us by on a small income, so whilst my friends went to Dreamworld on the holidays, we would go to our grandparents house in the bush.
Even though the socio-economic difference between my family and my peers at school was clearly noticeable, I rarely cared. What mattered to me was my old hand-me-down books, many of which had a similar theme – escapism and a moral framework where courage over adversity was rewarded. From kids travelling to different lands in the Magic Faraway Tree, to others stumbling upon them in Narnia, it’s no wonder I came to believe that adventure was central to having freedom and a better quality of life. I longed to become a flight attendant or adventurer of some sort and would draw my ideal trip routes on a world map that I had found in a newspaper.
The high school I went to held opportunities for overseas travel to Japan. In year 10, my family saved up the funds to send me there, unknowingly planting the seed that would provide me with the confidence to leave town and travel by myself in later years.
I have never forgotten the difficulty that would have gone into saving that kind of money, and that if I hadn’t gone on that trip perhaps my life would be very different today. I remember being so excited on the flight to Japan that I took about a hundred pictures of the ocean below us. I remember the excitement I felt during take-off and landing, laughing off turbulence and being glued to the window in awe as we drifted down over the lights of Narita.
For me, flying was one of the best parts of the journey. Even skydiving made it to my top five activities of all time, until of course, things changed in 2013, when I began to feel troubled during flights. I have some ideas what may have triggered it, a failed landing in Sydney and more recently an emergency landing in the desert en route to Aspen, USA, but I still can’t say for sure.
At the moment I am on a flight from Darwin to Sydney. After buying a wine the flight attendant must have realised how freaked out I am (maybe it was the tears that gave it away) and gave me an extra one for free. Because I am fully aware of the safety of flying, I feel ashamed of my fear. I know that it is more dangerous to travel by car and I am statistically more likely to be eaten by a shark on one of my frequent trips to Bondi Beach. I find it strange that I am always comfortable in a car, even in the rage-pit that is Sydney during peak hour.
When I drive through rural Australia at dusk and dawn I am aware of the huge danger of wombats and kangaroos yet happily drive at that time of day. I feel confident driving even after slamming into a 2 metre kangaroo that bounded across the road during a blizzard on the Snowy Mountains Highway. We could have died at the wheel that night, yet the very next weekend we were driving in the same place at the same time without any paranoia whatsoever, just sorrow for the death of the kangaroo.
Whenever I disembark an aircraft after a non-eventful yet nail-biting flight I always berate myself for feeling stressed for nothing. Whenever I am on the plane I plead to myself, ‘how about we don’t be stressed this time, and if in the unlikely event something happens, then you can be stressed’. Regardless, in the hours up until my flight I get sweaty palms and during the flight I somehow convince myself that the plane has lost an engine every time the plane dips to turn.
I don’t often drink alcohol, but I will drink wine when I fly, as that seems to be the only way I can stop caring about what is happening around me. Snaps to the flight attendant on this flight who has so far given me three free wines. She appropriately ignores my fear and tries to make me feel like I am nothing out of the ordinary. Each time she just hands me a Shiraz, winks, and says ‘it’s my shout’.
I wrote this piece a few months ago and wasn’t going to publish it. But I must say since writing this, I’ve actually felt better, especially on my last long haul to Singapore. Perhaps there is something in that, writing down your worries to really address them to yourself. Or maybe I had too many wines on my last flight. I guess I’ll never know.
What I realise now is how the power of fear can interfere with something I have loved so much from an early age. A part of me believes that if I start making excuses to drive or sail instead of fly then it will restrict me from travelling in the future. So I’ll keep on boarding, keep stressing, keep exploring, and hope that one day I will be carefree when I hit the skies.