Flying on Planes

I’ve been flying more than usual: 4 flights in the last week or so, with 2 more coming up later this week. I’ve been visiting family to recuperate from the year+ of toxicity at my place of employment.

During my first flight, I had a seat to myself near the wing of the plane. This meant if there was an emergency and passengers had to exit the plane quickly I’d be responsible for opening up the door. Usually, the seat pocket in front of you has emergency information about the aircraft and but as you can see in this photo,

there was no emergency pamphlet:

I probably should have asked how I was supposed to open the door in the case of an emergency, but being my introverted self I didn’t feel like talking with anyone nor sounding stupid. Plus, I figured the chances of my needing to open the door was very slim.

I decided to put my focus on taking pictures while in the air:

I love having a window seat!

Totally worth the inconvenience of having to ask someone to move if I need to move to the lavatory. I hate inconveniencing other people, and I have an anxious bladder so you’d think I’d want an aisle seat. (“Anxious Bladder”= I know I’m going to be stuck in a situation for a while my bladder will ache like I have to pee, even when I don’t). But having a window seat is totally worth it!

During my second flight, I was one row back and finally had access to the emergency manual. Found out the plane was a 737-700 (as all my flights on this trip so far have been) and there were instructions on how to open the emergency door. However, when I looked at the door and compared it to the manual it didn’t make it any clearer on how to open the damn thing.

There was no latch, handle or thing to grab, poke, jiggle or anything of the sort, as displayed in the pictures. Okay, we’re dead then, I thought. I thought, Why don’t they have us do drills, just in case? Like a tornado drill in school when I was a kid, or for my own kids, an active shooter drill. If you practice something multiple times it can help you stay calmer if the thing actually happens, because you’ll have an idea what to do.

Maybe something like this?

But maybe not this extreme ::shudder::

The amount of thought I gave the emergency exit was not reasonable, as it was not in proportion to the probability of actually needing to know this information.

But this is what my mind does, even when I’m not anxious. Rumination when anxious makes sense, but my mind just overthinks no matter what, often at the exclusion of more important matters. I’m not sure what was more important in this situation, but I’m sure there was something I was forgetting, as my brain tends to omit important information I need to pay attention to when I find something else more interesting.

My third flight was out of BWI (Baltimore-Washington International), which I love. Why? The pilots, flight attendants, and even the stores have a sense of humor:

Plus, cool art:

Least favorite? Atlanta. Fuck you for making me run a half marathon to get to my next gate on time!

Anyway, on my 3rd flight, I learned about the 737 Max plane crashes.

I said to my mom who was in the seat next to me: Well, Mom, if I’m going to die at least I have you with me. Then I immediately checked the seat pocket in front of me:

Oh, good. Not a Max. Still, I was relieved when it landed.

I was near the wing again on both flights:

My mom and I both made jokes about The Twilight Zone scene from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

A couple days later while at the library I check out a couple DVDs, one of which was the movie United 93, about one of the flights that was hijacked by terrorists during the 9/11 attacks.

Why I’d want to watch such a thing when I have to fly again in a couple of days is beyond my comprehension. Am I actively trying to make myself anxious? Maybe.

The movie was intense. I was a little leery about watching the movie, feeling some guilt over engaging in entertainment about an actual real-life tragedy. Though, after watching it, I felt it was done very respectfully.

It was surreal to listen to the pilots and flight attendants discuss the very same things that I had overheard when boarding my flights just a couple days before. The pilot and copilot to one of my flights stood behind me as the plane was being cleaned, waiting to board. I overheard them introducing themselves, where they were from, the weather, and what they were planning on doing when they got home. Just like in the movie. Duh, Quix, they are just real people having real-people social interactions.

In the movie, the passengers were able to get through security pretty quickly and they were served a full meal (the no longer even serve peanuts anymore!). I felt a high sense of nostalgia, remembering how much less stress it was to fly back then. My biggest complaint: being robbed the joy of seeing one’s loved ones face at the gate immediately stepping off the plane.

I might as well tell my 9/11 story now:

It was the month before my 21st birthday and I was in my last year in college.

My best friend/roommate woke me just before 9 in the morning to inform me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. She’d been watching the news. I naively didn’t know what the World Trade Center even was but my roommate thought it was a big enough deal to wake me up. I didn’t have a class until 11 am. Being a night-owl I tried to chose classes that were in the late morning/early afternoon, so I was annoyed that she woke me up but she was insistent I wake up and watch the news with her. Ugh, why is she always so dramatic? I remember thinking.

I got out of bed and sat in the living room to see what was going on. The news was saying a small plane flew into that tall building. But…why would it be flying so low? Did the pilot fall asleep or something? My roommate thought the pilot had been suicidal and did it on purpose. I was insistent it was an accident.

Then as my roommate was making coffee in the kitchen I watched a plane fly into the tower next to it. Wait, what just happened? I thought the news was repeating coverage from a different angle. But then the reporter announced it was a second plane. I called to my roommate, There was another plane crash!

Up until that point, I hadn’t thought it was a big deal, but with a second plane. As I was trying to make sense of it I immediately became concerned with the other planes in the air. I thought it was an EMP (electromagnetic pulse weapon), an attack on the U.S. from another country. I didn’t know what it was called or how such a thing worked, but as a charismatic evangelical Christian, I figured that this was a sign that the End Times was upon us. I didn’t for a second think that terrorists had hijacked the planes. I couldn’t fathom that a person would willingly fly a plane into a building with innocent passengers on board. 

My roommate and I watched the towers fall. My roommate commented that there were people in the buildings. But surely they got OUT of the buildings when they heard the crash??? I thought. I hadn’t considered the logistics. When I realized people were trapped in the buildings as they collapsed I started bawling and couldn’t stop crying for hours.

The aftermath was rough. For months I would randomly start crying over it. Many of my friends knew people in NYC that had been affected.

My first flight after 9/11 was in December 2001 from Orlando to Boston Logan International. Getting through security was one of the most stressful things I had done in my life at that point. TSA chose me to go through extra screening, I think to make a point to other passengers “See, even this 4’11 innocent-looking woman could be a terrorist!” The other passengers on the flight were very chatty. For nearly all of us this was our first flight since 9/11 and I didn’t mind being social. When we landed safely everyone clapped, including me. Relief.

I learned recently that my mom retired from the U.S. military in August 2001, the month before 9/11. Had she not retired, she would have been assigned to work at the Pentagon but she didn’t want to work at the Pentagon so she decided to retire earlier than originally planned. Had she not retired then she would have been working in the Pentagon when AA Flight 77 hit the building. Her decision may have possibly saved her life, or at least saved her from possible PTSD had she survived. It’s strange sometimes how our decisions can unknowingly affect the course of our lives until we see it in hindsight. Often we cannot predict what will happen next.

Obsession with figuring out emergency exits on planes, concern about the 737 Max plane crashes, and remembrance of 9/11: only a small part of my current ruminations. But currently the most cohesive ones.

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7 thoughts on “Flying on Planes

  1. The last few years have seen me flying more for my job than ever, 4-7 times a year, where it used to be once or none. The interesting thing is that, when I was a believer, I had no problem, even enjoyed it. I mean, if it crashed, paradise, a short wait, then the rest of the family would show up. And I was sure I’d get to watch my kids grow up and become parents, and at least see my grandkids, who would all end up believing, so I could meet them one day, and… Okay, that got away from me a little.

    Anyway, my point is that now, leaving behind my belief in God and the afterlife, being atheist and a humanist, and being convinced that, barring some really cool discovery afterward, this life is all there is, flying has become more difficult. If I fly in the AM, I usually get a stiff Irish coffee in me (and I don’t mean Bailey’s – I mean coffee with a generous shot of Jameson in it.) If I have a layover, I take another shot before going on. I might even get another on board if it’s a rough (and long enough) flight. I took a flight – SFO to Ohio – last year that was very bumpy. I was really in need of a soother, LOL. The flight attendant was literally asking what I’d like and I asked if she still had some Woodford (one of my preferred bourbons.) I was opening my wallet and my hands were really shaking bad. Right then the captain came on and ordered the serving staff directly to their seats to buckle up. Sure enough, the plane really rocked. I was really being a huge baby about it (to myself, anyway, I really try not to share it with my seat mates) but rode it out for the next ten minutes or so until they were allowed back up.

    First thing she did was come over and, apparently having seen my shaking hands when she was ordered, dropped two little bottles into my hands and refused to let me pay. She whispered, “No, I felt bad having to leave you in the lurch like that” and smiled. I admit those two bottles went down pretty quick and helped me through the rest of the ride (another two hours of that – ugh.) I might even have closed my eyes for a little while.

    It’s funny how your beliefs can affect you. I still wouldn’t let my fear keep me from flying. It doesn’t even enter the equation when I consider my travel options. It just makes me nervous as **** now 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Anthony. I can certainly relate with the nerves. Like you, flying didn’t used to bother me but does now, ESPECIALLY if things get rough! If it’s particularly bumpy it will bring on a panic attack and a few tears. Valium and beer are my drugs of choice.

      I’ve never linked my increased fear of flying to my deconversion like you have but it would certainly makes sense.

      I don’t resent Christians for that sense of security and comfort it sometimes gives them. My very elderly mother for example, looks forward to heaven..and to seeing my belated father. I figure..if it helps them cope with this life, and it does no harm to others, then why not. I used to miss that comfort in the early days after my deconversion but less so now.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks for your comment, Anthony. I’m on a flight right now. Well, about to take off.🛫

      I hate the fact that I’m alone sitting next to a stranger. Wish I had someone I knew/cared about with me. Takes the mind off of the concerns of flying. I don’t have much of the physical symptoms of anxiety but my mind tends to race.

      I know what you mean about the chance in your perspective after deconverting. I now don’t like speeding cars, or rollercoaster rides. I no longer think I’m on God’s hands. I think of surviving and being paralyzed or dying slowly. I know that accidents happen and, like I said, I’d rather not die alone.

      I’m glad alcohol helps you a bit. Unfortunately, I’m unable to drink by myself. I don’t trust my memory and am afraid I’ll lose something important, plus there is there anxiety of having to speak with a stranger. Lol.

      I’m so glad that flight attendant was so nice to you!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. OK, so I need to put in my 9/11 story. I live in the DC area. At this point I have one child in elementary school, and one toddler at home. I’m working a from-home job, which helped a lot, since daycare would have been way too expensive. I get a call from my spouse, who’s at work. “Turn on the TV” he says. “Which channel?” “It won’t matter, he says, just turn it on.” That was right about when the second plane hit.

    From then on the day was pretty much chaos in our area. Once the Pentagon was hit the entire subway system was shut down. All the schools closed, and they started to make arrangements for how to send the kids home early, but a lot of the parents were stranded downtown, and it was a nightmare making sure all the kids got safely home. My nephew was in the army Old Guard at the time, stationed at Arlington Cemetery (next to the Pentagon), and his unit was sent in to see if they could rescue anyone from the Pentagon. He spent 48 hours straight pulling apart wreckage, and finding only body parts. The whole area just pretty much shut down for several days.

    One person I was kind of acquainted with was killed at the Pentagon. (The husband of a law school classmate of my spouse.) Later, through my husband’s job, I was to get to know several badly injured survivors from the Pentagon. Wow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Uni Dubium..That must have been an awful task your nephew had to carry out. Did it end up having any psychological impact on him?

      That 9/11 event was shocking enough even to me..in my country of Australia. And I was asleep so didn’t hear about it till the next morning. But for those of you who witnessed it unfolding live..AND the trauma of having it unfold on your soil, it must have been incredibly frightening and disorientating! I’m so sorry your nation had to experience such an awful event!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I don’t really know if it had any lasting impact on him, I imagine it did. He doesn’t really talk about it, at least not to me. He had to spend his birthday doing that, so that made it even more awful.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Quixie. I’m SO glad your mum wasn’t one of the 9/11 causalities! I can’t help wondering what that would have done to your faith..never mind other psychological impacts! Ironically, I’d never heard of EMP until from Evangelical brother told me about it..in terms of the potential threat it posed. It must have been a narrative floating around Christian circles, like the Y2000 bug one was.

    It’s interesting how Christians generally seem more prone to conspiracy thinking. I suppose they’re on the look out for signs pointing to the Rapture. I have to say tho Quixie, that your recollections of how you responsed to 9/11 is one I have never heard before! Though no doubt you were not alone in that.

    Liked by 1 person

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About Quixie

Hi! I go by "Quixie" My nickname comes from the term I began using to describe myself when I began blogging nearly 4 years ago: "quixotic," meaning "exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical." It's how I described my evangelical Christian faith at the time. Now I'm an agnostic atheist who is trying to find a balance between idealism and reality.