Among many other personality idiosyncrasies that seem to be worsening with age, I have developed an increasingly frustrating aversion to flying. On a plane, that is.
In my youth, I remember the idea of taking a trip to some far away exotic place like Buenos Aires or Cleveland as something magical and thrilling. Even having to wake up in the wee hours of the morning before the sun rose and leaving the house in blackness created a sense of mysterious purpose and adventure. I was a hobbit in a Tolkien story, throwing my leather knapsack over my shoulder (or perhaps dragging a vinyl Strawberry Shortcake carry-on case) and starting off on a journey of great importance. To slay a dragon. Or visit grandparents. Whatever.
Part of the thrill was surely the novelty of it; because I can count on one finger how many plane excursions I took between the ages of two and 15. We were a family of automobile passengers; my parents content to contain our escapades within the tri-state area. As such, I remained a less-experienced traveler throughout much of my youth, resulting in a somewhat diminished appreciation for foreign cultures. For instance, as a seven year old, on an extremely rare foray to Puerto Rico, I remember the highlight of the trip being the several large bowls of Rice Krispies I was allowed to eat for breakfast in the hotel, a delicacy I was not sanctioned to enjoy at home.
Sadly, just as air travel became more of a necessity in my life, my enthusiasm for it waned as the post-911 airport complexities and entanglements took a firm grip on the industry. Although I realize the absurdity of diminishing the required anti-terrorism tactics by using the phrase ‘a real killjoy’, I can’t help recalling fondly the last time I made it through a security line without catching a sock in my shoe as I hopped along attempting to remove multiple layers of clothing with one hand while I guided dirty plastic bins containing my belongings through the conveyor belt with the other.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy waiting in lines. Or being herded like cattle through an x-ray machine that will no doubt at any minute be proven to cause cancer. Or being forced to guzzle down the bottle of water I just bought for $5.00 before I get to the front of the security line. Or sucking up to TSA officials on the off chance they might find me suspicious-looking (I’m not sure I have ever resembled my own driver’s license photo). Or being charged an additional $50 for every extra pound over some arbitrary pre-determined mass that my suitcase may weigh. Or keeping all my liquid items under 4 ounces and sealed in a plastic bag in my purse. Or removing my belt in front of strangers. Or watching other strangers remove their belts in front of me. Actually, I take it back – I don’t enjoy any of that.
Lately, being forced to spend time in the airport makes me angry. Just considering the possibility, as distant as it may be, that my flight will be delayed or cancelled puts me on high rage alert, as I psyche myself up for an inevitable argument with a customer service representative or flight attendant. The fact that I have no control over how many minutes are spent sitting near a gate waiting to depart or even on the plane before take-off creates in me a perfect storm of anxiety, apprehension and angst. By the time I’m told to ‘sit back, relax and enjoy the flight’, I have a pulsing vein in my temple.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy paying for meals that used to be free. Or paying for headphones that used to be free. Or paying for movies that used to be free. Or being told ‘cashews are for first class only.’
Besides the internal psychological warfare that accompanies any trip I may take on a plane these days, there is the continuing and exasperating demise of my physical tolerance for turbulence. Whether it’s directly related to some aging symptom of my impending decrepitude or perhaps an indication that my mind-body connection is disconnecting, I find myself increasingly incapable of dealing with air bumps. My head and stomach suffer varying degrees of nausea as the plane tilts and rolls over invisible pockets of air, causing me to grip the arm rests of my tiny seat with sweaty palms as I stare out the window (which a….l…w…a…y…s… has the shade stuck) in vain and count the seconds until we land.
What usually makes the experience all the more painful is the apparent immunity to such suffering that I am forced to witness in my fellow passengers. On a recent plane ride, I was aggravated to have my sense of sickness compounded by the aroma of a tuna fish sandwich, calmly being consumed across the aisle by Jon Lovits’ doppelganger. As the plane leaned to an angle in the sky that implied we were nearly upside down and my stomach lurched appropriately, I was aghast to notice Jon serenely chewing and swallowing his lunch (upside down!), pausing only to notice my pale and clammy stare. He winked, which I took as a direct indication of his lack of humanity.
The practice of flying, like many other aspects of my life, has revealed itself to be disillusioning as I have grown older. However, currently my travel options are limited. Although, I’ll bet if I live long enough to see it, teleportation will get old too. I mean, all that molecule rearranging just sounds messy.