I did not always enjoying flying.
My relationship with air travel had a bumpy beginning (yes… I am leading with a turbulence pun… don’t judge me!). I flew from the East Coast of Canada to the West Coast of the U.S. as part of a school trip. I knew nothing about flying. My dad’s flight experiences were limited to his army days and my mother lived her entire life without boarding a plane.
When I think back, I realize that at least one of my parents should have connected the dots and recognized that a kid who threw up in the backseat during long car drives probably needed Gravol before crossing the continent by air, but it was 1980 so my advance travel measures were limited to buying gum in case my ears popped and stuffing kleenex in my coat pocket so that I could deal with any runny-nose emergencies that might crop up (note to readers: everyone should have kleenex with them at all times. This is not just a “mother thing”).
So my ear-popping was under control and my nose was goober-free, but I started throwing up about half an hour into an eight hour flight. It probably didn’t help that I was seated at the back end of the plane, in the middle of a row, squished between two VERY LARGE businessmen. They were completely unprepared to deal with my sad situation and, after limited discussion, decided that the solution would involve slipping a copious quantity of rum into my plastic glass and praying I would pass out before the barf bags were all used up.
It was not a completely unsuccessful strategy. I did eventually fall asleep. Unfortunately, I woke up as the plane was descending and groggily vomited on one guy’s shoes (and on myself while traveling by bus to the hotel… and on the carpet in the hotel lobby) Lessons learned: drinking does not help, you should keep a barf bag in your hands at all times, and high school chaperones are not amused by kids who get drunk on planes.
Flash forward a couple of decades… my husband is pulling me through LaGuardia, hollering about missing our flight, and I am trying to run but my legs are filled with lead, my brain is mushy, and I am so hopped up on Atavan and Gravol that I am literally incapable of feeling panic. No one should be incapable of feeling panic! Trust me on this. When anti-anxiety and anti-nausea drugs are involved, the opposite of panic and anxiety is not rational thought and serenity. Nope. It’s just a zombie-state in which, ironically, you still feel somewhat anxious and sick to your stomach but you can’t muster the enthusiasm to try and save yourself or to vomit.
While my husband did manage to drag my sad ass through customs and onto an international flight, the whole experience shook me up a bit and made me determined to find a way to get over an issue that, while still rooted in motion sickness, had somehow grown into an all-out phobia. I started by cutting out most of the drugs so that I could actually FEEL emotions and figure out how much of my nausea was related to movement and how much was the side effect of being stoned like a 1970s rockstar. Surprisingly, when I flew Atavan-free and with about half as much Gravol in my body I felt better… not 100%, but better.
I felt better-enough to notice that I was more relaxed in an aisle seat than a window seat and even more chilled out when I was seated in an emergency row where there was more leg room. Huge discovery! I wasn’t afraid of flying; I was afraid of suffocating (perhaps related to my original “squished” journey between the two VERY LARGE businessmen).
On my next trip, I paid a small additional sum to guarantee “bulkhead seating” (a fancy airlines term for the wider row with an emergency door instead of a window). Once I could stretch my legs a bit, I found myself rather enjoying the in-flight movie and the tiny bag of peanuts. And since bulkhead is closer to the bathroom, the fear of puking on my own shoes subsided as well. Things improved so much that I took a risk and swapped my traditional Gravel out for a “natural Ginger” version that proved to work just as well.
With the panic and the vomiting under control, I started noticing a few sort-of-awesome things about being on a plane:
- I don’t have to talk to anyone. In this above-the-real-world setting, it is considered perfectly acceptable to pop on headphones and blissfully ignore the people around you.
- I can read an entire book with interruption… or watch an entire movie. And it’s a book I want to read and a movie I want to watch. No reading aloud to little people who want me to use cartoon voices, and no compromising on a movie choice and winding up with animated princesses or, worse yet, those young actors from the Twilight series (watching those lovely but vacuous creatures try to emote through dramatic scenes is painful).
- I can eat snacks without sharing (And I am not limited to those horrid little peanut bags. So long as I am willing to pay an atrociously inflated amount of money, the shops in the departures area will happily provide me with better options).
- I can sit perfectly still for long periods of time (This was actually a source of anxiety to my younger self but my middle-aged-woman self is thrilled to oblige).
- There is no internet connection… no emails, no conference calls, no google searches!
On the ground, I would have to fork over a fair bit of cash to get this level of quality “alone” time. Flying is like being in a very narrow spa but without the pressure to allow your body to be wrapped in seaweed or exfoliated!
I just took a flight from Toronto to Halifax that couldn’t land because of fog. After hovering around the airport for an hour we were diverted to another airport for refuelling. By the time we finally touched down in my home city, I had been on the plane over 7 hours. The old me would have filled every barf bag and possibly required wheelchair assistance to get off the plane. But the new me enjoyed completing Amy Poehler’s new book, watched two romantic comedies on my laptop, and nibbled my way through a delightful array of pre-packaged snacks.
I was alone in the bulkhead row, so I stretched out and had a little nap (or two). And when I got off the plane, I was fresh as a daisy and ready to take on what was left of the day. It’s all perspective really… well… finding the right anti-nausea meds and perspective!