I have started implementing certain strategies to deal with my increased fear of flying. Some people opt for drugs, but I find the idea of knocking myself out really counter-intuitive. I’ve also heard too many stories of friends being left drooling and jelly-legged when their long-haul flight made an unexpected stopover.
“No one told me we had to get off the plane in Melbourne,” one told me. “I thought I was flying Sydney to Tokyo direct, so I was absolutely screwed. Barely conscious.”
I don’t like the sound of that at all. And think of it. If anything, heaven forbid, were to go wrong, wouldn’t you want your wits about you? I think I would. Maybe. Except when I think of something actually going wrong, and then I think I’d quite like to be passed out missing the whole thing. Hmmm.
Anyway, on short flights with people I know, like the two I took down to Victoria and back this past week, my strategies are simple. I talk a lot. I talk as though talking will somehow mask the fact that what we’re really doing is taking off. If the engines fire up and the noise becomes deafening, I do two things: I talk louder, and I talk faster. This is a take-off specific strategy. I say nothing during landing. I’m usually gripped by fear at that stage, and while I don’t pray, I do think very, very hard about how nice it is on the ground, how much I like it there, and how much I’m looking forward to being on it again – in one piece, of course.
The other thing I do is flick. I am a mad flicker when I fly. Part of my keenly observed pre-flight ritual is a visit to the departure lounge newsagency. I take my time. I scan all the magazines with a view to the length of the flight (Vanity Fair is quite good for longer flights, except god it’s in love with itself) and my mood on the day. If I’m particularly anxious – as I am whenever I’m flying without Llew by my side – I need a magazine whose main strength is outstanding flickability. This means a highly pictorial publication. Copy slows you down and impedes the flick-per-minutes-in-the-air ratio. I got lucky last Friday. All the women’s mags were running their Oscar issue. Sweet Oscar. Sometimes he really does shine. There is no better flick than the Oscar issue. I went for WHO magazine because I used to write some of their book reviews and I’m loyal that way (even though they’ve now reduced their books coverage to one page a month… this is not something I have any desire to endorse as I think it stinks), and it did not disappoint. Page after flickable page. I got my two fellow Darklings in on it too. Two strategies combined: I could talk about the outfits and flick through them at the same time. Well, didn’t time fly just as smoothly as we did? Indeed it did. And I know from past short flights that WHO is the perfect size for getting to Victoria from New South Wales. Perfect. We’d just read our stars and done the celebrity crossword when we landed. Oh, would you look at that? We’re here! I didn’t even notice! Yeah right – my palms were sweating like salted aubergines.
Of course, my success on the way down did present a dilemma on the return flight Monday. What would I flick? It was still Oscar outfits as far as this flicking chick could see. This would not do at all. Newspapers are terrible for flicking. Ever tried flicking through a broadsheet? It’s hard enough just turning the pages in an orderly fashion, let alone trying to look as though you’re reading when you’re really trying not to think about falling from the sky. No, I don’t go newsprint on short haul. I’ve not had much success with it (novels don’t work short haul for the same reason. Long haul, I’m reading fiction and very happily too). So I was standing there in my departure lounge newsagency, stroking my chin, really wondering what to do, when I happened across Esquire on my third and increasingly panicked lap around the mag stand. A cool Pop Art-style cover of President Obama caught my eye.Hmmm, I thought, a men’s mag…I did the all important flick test and marched off to the register. Mission accomplished.
And might I say that reading Esquire since (it was actually very good on the plane. Not super-pictorial, but full of short little dippers and then some longer articles for later) brought to my attention that there’s a real gap in the women’s magazine market. For such a saturated marketplace, the pickings are slim. SLIM. We don’t have a single magazine like Esquire. All the ‘women’s mags’ are dumb or boring or parasitic or sensational or worthy or some excruciating, hypocritical combination of the above. The Oscar issue made for such good flicking precisely because I knew I wasn’t missing anything by not reading the articles – once I’m off the airplane, I want and expect more copy value for my buck. So Esquire made it home, with me, both of us in one piece. WHO did not.