Written On A Plane

Panic is an odd thing; while it serves an evolutionary purpose, allowing us to heighten our senses in times of danger, it’s also as contagious as Rhinovirus in a nursery. Human minds have an odd switch built in to them whereby, if we see a few people panicking, we begin to assume that there is some valid reason to panic, and so we start to follow suit. It has no basis in reality, but it may keep us safe.

I am currently sitting on a plane, typing this out on my phone; a few rows behind me, a woman has been talking loudly since she took her seat. She was probably talking loudly long before that. The problem is that she is terrified of flying. The bigger problem is that she is not hiding it. This nasal, whinging ruiner is trying to sit on the floor, trying to hide under a seat, making everyone else uneasy.

As she is repeatedly telling everybody on the plane, she has tried “everything in the world” to cure her of her ills. She lists several drugs, several professional services and several coping practices. She fails to mention not fucking flying. She is incredibly loud, and behaving with no consideration of the amount of stress she may be exerting on her fellow traveller. Loud whingers rarely do that, I find.

My partner is also afraid of flying; she takes the rational viewpoint that a metal tube weighing many tonnes has no business being airborne. This is a logical proposition. To her, a plane is a precarious proposition; any odd behaviour or any unnatural movements – take-off, landing, turbulence – are anathema to her, and she struggles to cope. The movement of the plane as it travels through the air makes her very scared. This is all perfectly rational. It’s a pain in the arse, but a rational one, at least.

Today, there is a large movement of wind across the northern end of the east coast of the United Kingdom. In practice that means that Scotland has been lashed with heavy winds. That’s par for the course for Scotland: they’re used to it. What is not par for the course is waking up at 4am, checking the weather for your 11am flight, and finding that the wind speed, were it a family car barrelling towards you, would be lethal. That’s the kind of thing that would stop many people from sleeping.

Sleep gets replaced by a waking terror; a panic which won’t shift, which only becomes more real the more you focus on it. It’s no more real than a floor made of lava, but try telling yourself that.

Now, insert in to this melee of panic a woman with absolutely no filter; someone who screams that they are about to die every time the plane hits a perfectly safe patch of turbulence. This crazy lady threw herself on the floor of the aisle and begged for a coffin there and then. Tuts abounded.

Her panic whipped round the cabin like diahorrea, escalating the trauma of my travelling companion no end. The crazy lady proceeded to shout and swear, her droning voice cutting through the soupy, thickened, air like a soldering iron through lard, alternating endlessly between anguish and apologia.

With every fresh cry, more people looked around to check whether their lives were, in fact, in mortal danger. Satisfied that they were not, shoulders were shrugged, and magazines were returned to. She may have been certifiably insane, but that’s not enough to warrant putting down “Take a Break”.

I take the view that the lunatic woman a few rows behind me was more a danger to the safety of that plane than the captain being blackout drunk. Panic is contagious; she was the contagion. But I take a dim view of morons shouting the odds when I’m trying to relax. So I got my keyboard out.

The fact of the matter is that flying is safe. It’s not natural, and it’s not always pleasant, but it is safe. The fact of the matter is that we now like to go to far flung places around this pretty blue ball of rock we inhabit, and sometimes that means flying: if you don’t like it, get the bus. The fact of the matter is that the human mind is crap: we can convince ourselves that we are on the verge of fiery death with less evidence than it would take to convince us that it is raining outside. Whatever that means.

We choose to fly because it gets us far away quicker than any other method. If the reason you’re on a plane is to do work somewhere else, good news: home working and virtual meetings will soon rob you of that need. If the reason you’re on a plane is that we want to have a jolly old time somewhere other than where you live, tough; it’s your choice to do that, so either stop taking holidays or shut up when we’re all trying to have a nice time. If the reason you’re flying is because you’re being taken, against your will, to some far off site where your human rights will be denied, and you’ll be tortured with electrical cables, please do scream and shout. I doubt anyone on that flight will pay you heed.

Flights and airports are as much fun as being robbed and groped at the same time; it’s demeaning and it’s crap. I am currently covered in the crumbs of someone else’s pie; in several days I will be in a queue to be groped by a Spaniard in a uniform, after my headphones set off the metal detector. We have become so used to the awful aspects of flying, but they are utterly dehumanising at each point.

It has been a long time since I was able to get through an airport without an argument. It’s usually with either my partner or our child, but it always starts with me. While my partner stresses about being rattled around in a bean can, I get more and more wound up by getting through the place itself. British people don’t actually love to queue, we just know it’s rude not to. Airports are rude.

For many people, flying is a truly terrifying experience, both physically and emotionally. They are not going to get over it. Ever. Some of them go far beyond fear, in to the arena of anti-social behaviour. However, the rest of us aren’t locked in their bubbles of irrationality; we’re just trying to get where we’re going. So stop shouting, stop getting on everybody’s nerves, and start calming the fuck down.

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