Fear of Flying.

Ever heard of pitot probes? Yeah, I hadn’t either, until yesterday’s NY Times article about the disappearance of Air France Flight 447 a few years back. Technically, they are little cylinders on the exterior of an airplane that calculate airspeed. Apparently, it’s a very fine line between going too fast and too slow that keeps an airplane in the air, and these little guys are what help the plane and its crew do so. Not so technically, pitot probes are the newest in an ever-expanding list of potential causes of air disasters that I believe will occur when I’m flying.

Ok, I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m crazy. I know this, but I’m going to roll out the red carpet for anxiety here. For as regularly as I fly, I hate it. As in, I get that tingly feeling in my stomach (like when you’re playing hide and seek as a kid) when I book a flight, and begin seriously worrying about my airtime 48-72 hours before departure. If my brain had a face, it would look something like this:

Once on board, I immediately convince myself that it’s too hot, and there’s not sufficient air, and OHMYGOD, I am going to suffocate. Due to this, I am the only passenger who pays attention to the oxygen mask safety demonstration. They’ll all be sorry when this can drops of out of the sky, I think. Once we’re accelerating down the runway to take off, the next round of potential horrors enters my mind. Faulty wheels, bird strike, glitch in the mechanical system, water on the end of the runway that we’ll barrel into, unexpected item/vehicle/person entering the active runway we’re on, forcing us to veer off into the highway running parallel to the runway. You get the idea.

Ok, and we have liftoff. My stomach does the flip-floppy, gravity-shifting thing, and now I am listening for any unusual (or what I perceive as unusual) sounds with the plane’s engine. Did something just shut off? Are we losing altitude? Are we going in the right direction? (Yes, I have control issues). “Ladies and gentleman, the aircraft has reached 10,000 feet, and the captain has cleared use of approved electronic devices.” Sweet. Great. Maybe a little James Taylor on the iPod will distract me. Guess what invariably ends up coming across my playlist? “Plane Crash” by moe. OK, maybe I should read. Only I cant, because I am too busy anticipating turbulance, and when we experience any slight shift in movement, I immediately dart my eyes around, feeling as though I should gauge my worry based on the passengers around me, who are either reading the Wall Street Journal, or sleeping. And if the flight attendants are walking around, then I assume we’re still golden. All the while, I’m searching back through my mind all the worst airplane disasters in history that I’ve read about, and trying to recount the cause of the demise for each. This also sends me into a panic. What if this plane wasn’t accurately de-iced?, I ask myself. At what altitude are we safe from bird strikes? Interestingly enough, the idea of terrorism has never, EVER crossed my mind. With all these gulls on the tarmac, fundamentalist Jihad is the least of my worries.

And now we’re landing. A glimmer of excitement rises in my throat, until I remember what someone I used to date said to me once. “All a landing is,really, is controlled chaos. A controlled crash.” Yiggity. Ok. As we’re approaching the runway, I brace myself-against the armrests, and my feet against the bars of the seat ahead of me. No worries, I convey silently to my seatmates, I fly all the time. I’m very worldly, as you can see. Ground. Skidding, screeching to a halt, swaying slightly, as I pray to God, Ted Kennedy, whoever can hear me, that we bring this to a safe close. At that moment, I never feel so alive. I’ve survived yet another flight. I’m home free. Or at least I thought I was, until I saw the video of the Air France jet swiping the Delta regional jet a few months back, tossing it about like a toy. So THAT’S why they tell you to leave your seatbelt on until the plane stops fully at the gate.

So, anyway, yeah. Pitot probes are now on my radar. Should they become clogged with ice or dirt, the article read, the plane is forced into manual mode, where the pilots must now navigate on their own the conditions that cause the probes to stop functioning in the first place. If there was any sliver of my sanity remaining on a flight, these little monsters have now set up occupancy there, ruining my ability to enjoy any shred of relaxation. Not to mention, the relaxation of anyone who dares fly with me. A word to the wise-if we’re ever to fly together-bring a few things: 1)benadryl, to knock me out and 2)noise-cancelling headphones, to drown out my incessant nervous talking when the benadryl doesn’t work. Hey, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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