What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

March 6, 2009 at 1:46 am (Uncategorized)

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.



  1. litlove said,

    I suffer badly from claustrophobia, so being locked into a small metal tube with too many other people and no available exits is Very Bad News for me. Drugs don’t work – fear seems to override them all. Usually I put my head on my husband’s shoulder and close my eyes and visualise being somewhere completely different. It works for short haul. But ten hours to and from California on my own a few years back nearly killed me. Loved the description of flicking – that does sound like a good short haul activity!

  2. piereth said,

    It was the aubergine analogy that did it for me. Priceless.

    Come to think of it, I don’t know why we aren’t all terrified of flying. It makes no sense not to be!

  3. Grad said,

    I am afraid of flying. I am afraid of heights, so I’m also afraid of falling (from the sky or from a ladder – it makes no difference). I used to love the train in its heyday. I guess it wouldn’t work if I were crossing the ocean, though. Too wet – and I don’t think I could hold my breath that long. If I wasn’t in a hurry, I’d think I’d like to take a ship. Only, when I was a kid I had a dream that all the oceans of the world had broken their boundaries, and the earth was doomed to be covered in a gigantic tidal wave. From that dream came my fear of drowning. So, I’m like you, a white knuckled flyer. What is really, really strange, is that although I have all the above fears, I don’t fear dying. Go figure.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    When I was young I wasn’t afraid of flying. Then I went through some years when I was. And then I wasn’t again. I don’t know why–but it’s easier not to be. But all that flicking was to good purpose. Maybe sometime you’ll start an Esquire style mag for women.

  5. doctordi said,

    I’m exactly like that, Lilian. I used to LOVE flying. I had no fear whatsoever. Get me on that big white bird. And then we had a really hair-raising flight in PNG, and both Llew and I lost some confidence that day. Having said that, I’ve had a plane turn around, and so has he, his being met by a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances at Heathrow, and mine by pajama-clad staff at Washington Dulles, so I think that was the beginning of the end of my love of flying. Except of course, they were ultimately all GOOD experiences where everyone was safe and sound, so it’s a completely irrational response and I know that. I can’t bear my own jitters, and I do try talking myself out of them.

    Grad, I adore trains. I want to take the Orient Express and all the other classic train rides, like the Trans-Siberian and the one across India. I love the whole thing, especially the dining car and bar. I’ve never set foot on a cruise ship, but I heard there’s one for retirees, and I think that’s an excellent way to live out your days. Sure beats a musty nursing home with a thin carpeted TV room and mushy peas.

    Welcome, Piereth, she of the Bialetti coffee maker (I am having one right now, and it is very good). A friend of ours is learning to fly, and he said if we all understood the physics of it, we’d all be a lot less afraid. I’ve been told that by several pilots, and I chant it to myself when I am in the air.

    Litlove, I really feel for you. Claustrophobia on top of everything else would make flying just about as close to torture as a voluntary civilian activity could be. I recommend flicking short-haul. I’m not surprised to hear the drugs don’t work – I think it was fear of being under that woke me up during a general a number of years back. I wonder what else we can do long-haul to relax? I’ve tried drinking, but the jetlag hangover is deadly.

  6. Grad said,

    Doctor Di, I recently blogged about my memories of traveling from Chicago to Washington State with my mom and siblings to visit relatives. As I said there, the train ride was almost as much fun as the vacation itself. Like staying at a four star hotel that had wheels!

  7. Pete said,

    Post 9/11 my fear of flying definitely increased. Now I just try and tolerate the anxiety. Calming self-talk: “this is really a safe way of travelling” etc. and “I’m sure the pilots know what they’re doing” until we’re actually in the air. Then I reckon the danger is half over and can relax until the landing. But the flicking strategy sounds good – will give that a try.

  8. piereth said,

    Thank you for the welcome, DoctorDi! I’ve recently been offered the chance to learn to fly microlights – seriously considering it!

  9. doctordi said,

    Grad – I read that post! Linen napkins – yes! They’re magical, long train rides.

    Piereth, better you than me! Then again, I was recently invited on a sea plane, and loved it, so I do think there’s something to be said for facing fears head-on, thus conquering them.

    Pete, yeah, 9/11 probably didn’t help any of us. Like you, I do tend to relax for the majority of the travel time, it’s the take-off and landing that really make me eat my cheek, and self-talking also helps. Rational Me – so much better than Scaredy Cat Me.

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