The older I get, the more terrifying the concept of flying becomes to me. I remember being eight and holding my Mom’s hand as the airplane took off, taking great pride in the fact that I could look into the temperature-controlled, complimentary-snack-providing face of danger while so many adults around me clearly wanted to pee themselves. This pretty much held over until a few years ago, when I began to ponder my own mortality.
“They” (they being Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Billy the Kid, and Russian stay-at-home mothers) always say that teenagers think they are invincible. Something about frontal lobes. I beg to differ. When I was a teenager, I was pretty aware that if I got shot, the bullet wouldn’t just bounce off my chest like some Whopper a guy had thrown at me from across the cafeteria as he played the timeless game of “can I throw this piece of food down a girl’s shirt despite the fact she has never indicated an interest in having pieces of food thrown there.” So it wasn’t an issue of invincibility. It was more that I never really thought about the fact that sudden death is looming over us at all hours of the day.
Unfortunately, at the wise old age of 21, I am now constantly on the lookout for the arrival of my inevitable future manfriend, the Grim Reaper. I probably shouldn’t assume Death is a guy, but if I’m going to personify death, it is going to be the type of human who smelled like farts for most of their adolescent years and drew many a penis on my math homework.
I fly pretty often, but it wasn’t until recently that I had a flight experience that played directly to every single one of my fears, except for the one where a massive spider jumps from the ceiling and eats me. It was as thought the proprietors of United Airlines had teamed up with Ashton Kutcher to “punk” me, like on the MTV days of yore. Except that in my episode, they messed up and I never got to meet Ashton, which is the only thing that keeps being “punk’d” from being cruel and unusual punishment that is often likened to waterboarding. By me.
I was flying the day before Thanksgiving, and the airport was packed. I was feeling the adrenaline usually reserved for sports games rush through my veins as I tried to simultaneously take off my jacket and shoes so that I wouldn’t hold up the security line. I finally made it through when the man behind me tapped my shoulder, looked me directly in the eyes, and said “good luck”. He then walked off, disappearing into nearest Starbucks.
I spent my walk to the terminal thinking about all the possible implications of a strange man wishing me good luck. He could have just been trying to be friendly, but if that was what he was going for, someone should give that guy classes on how to be friendly without ALSO being unbelievably terrifying. Does he also try to high five people while holding large knife blades? Does he answer the phone with the words “I’m watching you”? Does he perhaps watch too much Dane Cook? Nope, I decided, the only possible answer is that my flight is doomed, and I might as well accept it now.
As I sat on the plane, I quickly realized that I had not accepted it. I looked anxiously around, debating how quickly I could run to the back should the suspicious looking woman in the front row all of a sudden head up to the cockpit to hijack the plane. Hindsight being 20/20, I am now almost positive running to the back of the plane in the case of a hijacking does literally nothing to help you.
A few hours into the flight, the stewards announced a competition—whoever had a photo with the most members of their family in it would win a prize. Ever on the alert, this reasonable and familial themed competition terrified me. Why would they do this? This is new and new always means death-by-plane. Of course, the man DIRECTLY BEHIND ME has a photo with some ungodly number of family members in it, and he wins what appears to be a bottle of champagne. This raises a thousand new questions. How did they know the winner would be over 21? How did they get that much liquid on the plane when I had to chug my entire water bottle in front of an entire security line? I spent the rest of the flight convinced that it must be a liquid bomb and looking for any tell-tale signs that it would explode so that I could run to the back of the plane. Once again, running to the back of the plane WOULD NOT, I repeat, would not have fixed my problem.
Of course, the plane landed safely, and I sprinted away from the man with his suspicious champagne as soon as was humanly possible, shoving a small child into a trashcan in my hurry to get the hell out of that deathtrap of an airport. In case you were wondering, I have flown three times since then and, coincidentally, my blood pressure has reached what most people have called “remarkably unstable and dangerous” levels.