I love travelling but I hate flying, which presents rather a big dilemma every time I’m at an airport waiting for a flight—they’re never on-time. My airplane phobia sets in motion and my head starts spinning: Something must be terribly wrong otherwise they wouldn’t be late… now they will just try to fix the problem in a hurry so that we can take off and avoid traffic jams. Oftentimes I find myself in the midst of a desperate conversation with the damned plane. I’m not crazy, believe me, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for my temporary insanity around airports and airplanes.
Ten years ago I was on a 12-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Madrid, and I certainly didn’t expect to survive and be here to tell about it. Well, I can’t affirm that I didn’t deserve the frightening flight, per se, since I decided to take it notwithstanding the warning the airline was giving passengers. Upon checking-in, the comeliest hostess delicately informed us about an approaching storm and that we could wait for the next flight…the next day! I’ve always liked to test the veracity of dubious situations like this one, so I decided I would just be in for a bumpy ride.
Apart from a slight hesitation in departing, we had a perfect take-off and almost straight away breakfast was served with the usual fuss. I only nibbled at a cookie (just in case) and prepared to sit back and enjoy the movie they were about to play: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. For years after this flight, I swear I wasn’t able to get even near the sight of chocolate for what it reminded me of.
Anyway, I was almost relaxed and, after my farewell party the night before, I was getting ready to sleep for the most part of the flight, regardless of any minor bumps. Not 20 minutes had passed when it started. First just a sidewise shake, then rocking back and forth, followed by the heavy unease throughout the cabin as everybody, including me, was suddenly aware of the approaching storm and what it meant. The next violent shake had somebody covering their mouth in the void attempt to block a scream; I myself had to swallow hard to prevent my own scream.
Nonetheless, I decided to ignore the turbulence: it occurred to me that the airline would never jeopardize the security of its passengers. If the so-called storm presented a major threat, they would have cancelled the flight, period. Trust me, they’ve done it for less!
But soon came the sudden rise of whispered voices, and I felt the cold sweat on my palms despite the perfect temperature. The plane pitched, and there went one passenger’s breakfast out of its bag, and then a second hiccup that was a little weaker but not weak enough from preventing my front neighbour’s breakfast from being expelled from his stomach. All the while I was thinking: When will it be my turn?
The following shake was of the “Houston we have a problem” kind. So the torture had begun, and we all had it coming. The violence of the shakes was beginning to escalate and we were being insanely dipped as bread into milk. “Ahhhhhhh!” That one scream really came out. When I heard my own voice, like in a recording tape, I couldn’t believe I had uttered such a sound.
At this point, we were bouncing uncontrollably and I was crying with fear and embarrassment at the same time! It seemed like we were driving on a bumpy road and hitting all the possible potholes. I pretended I was on a rollercoaster because usually that’s an enjoyable ride for me. But such a pleasant image helped nothing!
By now my t-shirt was soaked with my streaming sweat. For the first time I clearly saw a warning in my mind. It was like a giant advertising billboard flashing sentences in bold red: If you are not comfortable with flying in tough conditions, better sit this one out! I’m never going to see my family again! My beloved home and all the people dear to me! My life will be cut short by a reckless decision!
I must have been clenching the seat incredibly hard because the perfect stranger seated next to me said: “You can let go, it’s over. For a minute I also thought we weren’t going to make it!”
I thought: You don’t say! Well, gee, why don’t you just kill the rest of my self-esteem!