Fear of flying resolved

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2004

The Southern Yankee – Sue Ellen Ross

Today I will be flying home from Indiana, bringing my vacation to a close. I really enjoy the whole travel experience, crowded airports and all.

But it wasn’t always that way.

The first time I boarded an airplane, I was 35 years old and scared to death. My husband and daughter were so excited about our trip to California that they didn’t pay much attention to me and my complaints about the incidents that could happen when you fly the friendly skies.

No, indeed, they were going out West either with or without me.

On the way to the airport, everyone kept up a lively chatter.

My parents were dropping us off, and they also didn’t take me seriously when I said I didn’t think I could get on the plane without fainting. My daughter was checking her purse to make sure she had enough lip gloss and my husband was mapping out our plans for the day, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I was panic-stricken.

All I could think of was where the emergency door was located in the airplane. In my state of confusion, I wasn’t thinking straight, how can you leave an airplane when it’s going 700 miles an hour?

I had many nightmares about the flight, and everyone kept telling me to focus on what I was going to do once I landed. I tried.

We had a full schedule for our vacation week – visiting family and friends and seeing some tourist sights. This still didn’t calm my nerves.

I never knew what a panic attack was until that day in Chicago’s Midway Airport. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling, and I was trying to get my thinking back on the common sense track.

Then a strange thing happened.

A little girl, about 5 years old, was sitting next to me while we were waiting to board the plane. “Where ya goin’?” she asked me. I told her my family was going to California to have some fun.

“I’m goin’ to my auntie’s house, she has cancer and we have to see her before she dies,” said the little girl. She added that this was the first time she saw an airplane close up, but she wasn’t afraid, cause her favorite auntie needed her and it was too far to drive to her house.

Wow, I now know that kids can be very helpful when they are candid. This little girl and her story helped me to see that my fear of flying was really insignificant in the scheme of things.

As we talked, I told her I had never flown before and she told me to just close my eyes when the plane took off and I would be okay. Someone had given her that advice, and she planned on using it.

I wasn’t cured of my fear of flying immediately, my knees were still shaking as we took our seats. But I did close my eyes, and kept them closed for about 20 minutes.

When I finally did come out of my self-induced hypnotic state, I looked out the window and saw the land below me. It was like looking at a map in my geography textbook. I then realized that I wasn’t floating somewhere in outer space, the solid ground was still beneath me. Only it was hundreds of feet away.

The little girl was seated across the aisle from me, and waved when she saw me looking out the window. I waved back and smiled. She would never know what she did for me that day. I have never been afraid to fly since then.

In fact, I love it so much that I have joined two frequent-flyer programs.

Sue Ellen Ross is a staff writer for the L’Observateur and can reached at lobnews@bellsouth.net