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In-flight lessons

Posted: September 24, 2013 9:58 a.m.
Updated: September 25, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Getting sick is the worst! I know most people will agree with me, no matter who you are. I’m not sick right now. At least, I’m not allowing myself to believe I’m sick. Yes, I’m coughing and sniffling, but I’m telling myself it’s allergies. Positive thinking or denial, not sure which it is, but hopefully it will keep me from getting full-blown go-to-the-doctor kind of sick.

I’m really resisting the possibility of getting sick because I’m flying to Chicago this weekend and getting on an airplane unwell does not appeal to me in the least. I’ve heard from several friends that flying is a surefire way to get sick. The “recycled air” circulating the cabin passes everyone’s germs about. Hello, sir, I don’t know your name or the first thing about you, but now I’m sharing your bronchitis.

Again, I try not to think that way, but those kinds of thoughts have a way of wiggling into my mind, especially when I just sneezed six times in a row.

Back to flying: even if I don’t catch a cold or worse on a flight, I still have this charming mannerism of acting like I’m dying during take-off and landing. The first time I flew I know I must have scared the poor girl who sat beside me. I was flying to Madison, Wis., to visit a friend and it was my first time ever being on an airplane. Well, that’s not completely true. My mom took me and my sister on a crop duster above Bishopville one time. It was some type of festival Lee County was having and one of the attractions was $15 plane rides. Also, my mom wasn’t flying the plane, it was just her idea. She is a very adventurous person, but I’ll save those stories for another column.

That plane ride was fun and didn’t really scare me. So, for the first actual commercial flight I took (yes, at age 23, which I know is late in life for one’s first flight) I thought I was prepared and knew what to expect. I didn’t realize the amount of shaking the plane would do as it ascended off the ground and into the clear blue. During that time I squeezed my eyes shut, gripped my armrests like they were life preservers and whispered a repeated mantra of “Please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash,” quietly to myself until the bumping subsided.

When I opened my eyes and stopped completely freaking out, I noticed the girl beside me staring at me in surprise. She was a very pretty young newlywed, I later discovered, who had flown to visit her very ill parent in Charlotte and was flying back to her husband and home in Minneapolis. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her story because she told me that watching me panic during ascension reminded her of the first time she flew.

“Now I’m on a plane twice a month,” she said. I talked to her the entire flight, which was really interesting. I found out that she and her husband were ready to start a family and have children, but they had put that on pause due to the condition of her parent. They were hoping her parent’s health would improve and sometimes it seemed that it would. She and her husband were in a hard spot because they weren’t sure if she should just stay in Charlotte more permanently for awhile. Her husband owned a business in Minneapolis and couldn’t leave it for more than a week. She didn’t have siblings to help take care of her parent and, as I remember, the other parent was out of the picture for some reason or another.

What struck me about this young woman -- who I had the chance encounter to meet during a flight and probably wouldn’t have gotten to know so well had I not been so obviously distraught by airplane turbulence -- was that she never once sounded like she felt sorry for herself or was complaining about her difficult situation in life. In fact, she seemed completely grateful for her life and excited about its possibilities. When I told her I was flying out to visit a college friend for spring break, she was thrilled.

“Oh, you’ll have so much fun! Good for you,” she said and she asked what we planned to do. She had lots of suggestions for places for us to check out and her enthusiasm was completely contagious. Talking to her reminded me that I was very lucky to have the opportunity to fly to Madison and have a week’s vacation. I had no responsibilities holding me back and I was able to afford the plane tickets and spending money for the trip. I didn’t have to think that as soon as I landed I would be headed to a hospital to see someone I loved sick and weak and incapacitated. I was truly lucky and truly blessed and I hadn’t forgotten that, but talking to her reminded me of how good I had it.

Of course, I freaked out again during landing or taxiing, whatever it’s called, and my new friend quietly smiled at me. As we grabbed our carry-ons and debarked the plane she shook my hand and said, “It was really a pleasure talking to you.” No, I said, the pleasure was all mine. I’ve flown several times since then and every time I think of that first flight and the nerves and the new friend and how I learned that even if you do get sick from a flight, you should be excited to board an airplane because it means you’re going somewhere new.

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