Fear of Flying

     Once on a long train ride I asked the girl next to me why she took the train instead of flying. She wasn’t a girl; she was a college student, a young woman. I call her a girl because she was less than half my age.
     She said the last time she had taken a commercial jet both engines had conked out, on a flight from Boston to Washington, D.C.
     Really? I said. What happened?
     There was a lot of screaming, she said.
     The plane went down and down until the pilot managed to restart one of the engines.
     What did you do all that time? I asked.
     I prayed a lot, she said.
     So she decided to take the train this time.
     I hate to fly.
     I see a lot of lawsuits in my job at Courthouse News. And I do not trust a company that outsources the mechanical work on machines meant to carry me 5 miles up in the air at 550 mph.
     Nor do I trust companies that are perennially engaged in labor disputes with people who operate, and work in and on those machines.
     Nor do I trust companies that have standing orders to cancel their advertisements in daily newspapers for the next day’s edition anytime there is a commercial air crash.
     The airline companies keep tighter control over their advertising than they do over mechanical work that could prevent the air crashes.
     Companies like this – and I believe all the major airlines do it – do not have the proper priorities, it seems to me.
     My priority is not entrusting my life to such a company.
     I have a Zoroastrianism view about spending money.
     Zoroastrians, as I misunderstand it (I don’t understand any religion – religions are not to be understood) Zoroastrians believe that life and the world are a long struggle between good and evil. Our every act is, in a sense, a vote for good or for evil. When it’s all over – whatever “it” is – God, or Zoroaster, or someone, will tote up the score and decide what happens next.
     I don’t believe life is like that.
     But do I believe that spending money is like that.
     Every dollar we spend can be used for good or for evil, and I’d rather not give money to airlines – not since Reagan busted the air traffic controllers union.
     It could be, of course, that I’m just scared of flying. But I don’t think that’s it.
     One summer I worked on a forest fire crew. We had an old World War II surplus DC-6 to take us to fires. There were no seats in it. The fire crew sat on the thin metal floor. You could have pried it apart with a beer can opener. There were little cracks between each section of the body and you could look down through them to the ground below.
     One day we had to fly over the Cascade Mountains and the pilot had to find a low spot in the range because the old DC-6 couldn’t get over the top. Either that or because we had no oxygen, and no pressurized cabin. Pressure wouldn’t have done any good, with those cracks in the floor.
     That old plane bumped around quite a bit, especially going over the mountains, but it didn’t bother me. I liked looking down through the cracks, wondering how the damn thing stayed up. It went about 35 mph, it seemed to me. Maybe it went a bit faster than that. But I liked that old DC-6, so I don’t think it’s fear, exactly, that keeps me out of planes.
     Probably I hate flying because I’ve had so many airplane crash dreams – dozens of them. I see planes crash, or I’m on a commercial jet and something screws up and down we go. I wake up first. But from all those dreams I think I have a feeling, of only a fraction of one, about what it’s like to be on a plane that’s about to crash. It’s no good. It’s not a situation you want to be in.
     Probably that’s why I hate flying. If I ever was on a plane that went down, I don’t think I would scream, like the people on that girl’s plane did, or pray, like she did. I think I would get a horrible feeling in my stomach and think, “Kahn, you moron.”
     I hate feeling like a moron. Even for a little while.

%d bloggers like this: