I was flying home the other day from a business trip, and I ended up sitting next to a woman, probably 19 years old, maybe 20, who’d never been on a plane.
She seemed OK, but when the plane headed down the runway, she closed her eyes, gripped the armrests and whispered, “Shit,” and when we left the ground, she said, “Oh, God. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster. Shit.”
I’m not much of a talker when I fly. I’d rather read, but I thought the nervous flyer beside me really needed someone to talk her through this.
I asked if she needed some air and showed her how to open the air vent. I asked if this was the first time she’d flown, and she said yes, that she was going to visit her boyfriend in California and that he was shipping out in a few days. Then, she glanced out the window, pulled down the shade and said, “Shit.”
I said it was OK, that planes are built to fly, that’s what they do, they can’t help it, and that she was OK.
We hit a little turbulence. I barely noticed it, but she clinched the armrests and said, “Shit.” I said it was OK, that sometimes it’s rougher, that it might feel like she’s on a roller coaster and even that the plane is falling, but it really isn’t and that she’s OK.
Then she asked me a question I couldn’t really answer.
“How many times have you flown?”
I honestly had no idea. I flew the first time the summer before 1st grade. We went to Disney World. (I suspect a lot of people’s first flight was to Orlando.) I flew twice in high school — once to a funeral and again to Orlando — and didn’t really fly again until after college. I flew a few times on business, a few times on vacation, and somewhere along the way I stopped counting.
Somewhere, flying lost its magic. It stopped being special. It became routine. It became a hassle.
We hit a little more turbulence on our approach to Nashville. I barely noticed it, but my seatmate gripped her armrests, closed her eyes and said, “Shit.”
When we landed, we finally introduced ourselves, and I wished her good luck on her flight out to California and her boyfriend good luck on his deployment. I was thinking how glad I was that her first flight had been so smooth, so uneventful, but then I heard her on her cell phone, calling home.
“Oh, Mom,” she said, “the flight was awful,” and I thought, if she thought this was bad, then she’s got a long night ahead of her.