Sunday, July 29, 2007


Fear of Flying ("& Others")

It's ironic that the first draft of this post was composed on my Treo, some 30,000 ft. in the air.

I candidly admit to being a nervous flyer. I'm always antsy on takeoff and during the landing approach. I'm wary as we fly through the clouds and endure the inevitable bumpy interaction with the stormy cumulous variety. I recognize this worry even though I fly about three times a year and have averaged one international trip each year for the last decade. In my entire life, I can only recall one flight that could truly be considered violently rough. Yet, the fear still lingers.

At least it's not as bad as when I was younger: The first airplane ride I remember was when my mother and I moved from England to the U.S. I was about eight. We flew on JAL (Japanese Airlines). The plane arrived at JFK fine. Would that the same could be said for the contents of my stomach. Yep, it's true; I booted and, innocent that I was, the knowledge of an air-sickness bag was beyond me. So, I smelled just great for the bulk of the five-hour flight. For several years thereafter, I always took motion Dramamine or some other such motion relief before getting on a plane...

...until, one time, I simply forgot. Lo and behold, I was fine. Nervous, yes (more about getting sick than the flight itself), but my innards weathered the experience.

Back to the flight-phobia: On a conscious and mature level, I fully understand that flying is the safest form of transportation. Especially in contrast with driving. And yet..and yet...

As I've said occasionally when doing stand-up: I'll believe the statistical evidence when you show me ONE single car crash that produces 200 fatalities. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway to morbidly entertain myself, I now take note of possible ominous signs on a given flight (beyond the "Why are those men with beards chattering so avidly in a foreign language?" thoughts that occasionally spring to mind).

A boss of mine first got me onto this line of thinking after he returned from a cross-country trip to L.A. He said that he noticed when boarding his outbound flight a little kid (maybe 5 years old) carrying a stuffed animal nearly twice his size.

My boss said he immediately had this vision of where he'd seen such a stuffed animal: It was inevitably the poignant image that a news camera would linger upon amidst the floating-on-the-water debris of a jet airliner that went down with all on board lost.

You know the image I mean.

So, now, whenever I fly, I'm on the lookout for huge cute stuffed animals.

Secondly, there's the "famous person" concern. A few years ago, I went on a reporting trip to Sudan with Al Sharpton. The particular details matter little. However, at one point, the traveling party had to take a small one-propeller plane from Nairobi, Kenya into Sudan.

This is when the "& others" Postulate came to mind: You don't want to be flying around Africa with some famous person given that your epitaph could just be part of a lede that included "and others." As in: "A plane went down carrying [take your pick] Al Sharpton/Angelina Jolie/Bono AND OTHERS."

[Ironically, the closest I got to an "& others" moment on the Sharpton trip was AFTER we left Sudan and were preparing to fly home out of Kenya. As our modern large jetplane taxiied down the runway, a few seconds before we hit takeoff speed, there is a very loud POP. Everyone notices it -- and the mildly acrid smell that started to permeate the cabin. (And, no, I hadn't thrown up. )

Anyway, the plane aborts takeoff and returns to the terminal. It later turns out that the left engine had been taken out by an errant bird sucked in. And what would have happened had the engine gone kablooey a few seconds later -- actually upon takeoff?

Well, I think I would have gotten a sidebar mention from The Post. I think.]

So, what brings all this to mind as I fly from Albuquerque to Cincinnati (on to my "final destination", New York's LaGuardia)? Well, it might be that freshly-scrubbed-faces contingent of Boy Scouts that marched passed me as the plane boarded!

Boy Scouts? BOY SCOUTS?!?!? You gotta be kidding me.

Talk about tempting fate -- that combines the "cuteness" factor with the "among others" emotional grabber that my colleagues in journalism would draw to like nails on a magnet!

Where's my Dramamine?

Well, if you are reading this, it obviously means I made it home safe & sound.

If not, well my byline is now "and others..."

P.S. As the plane begins is descent into Cincy airspace, I casually ask the person in the seat next to me (he's been focused on the NYT crossword for most of the flight) what brought him to Albuquerque (he's flying into Newark).

He tells me: "I'm a doctor and four kids in my area just spent a week at a camp for children with cancer and other illnessess. I'm bringing them back home."

I say, "The Imus Ranch?"

He says "Yes."

Thank goodness I didn't ask the good doctor (he's a general pediatrician) earlier why he was flying.

I'm on a plane with Boy Scouts and kids with cancer!

Talk about tempting fate!

P.P.S. Fear aside, there are few more beautiful sites than seeing Manhattan when descending at night.


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