Fear of Flying
14 January 2013
We flew to Barcelona just before Christmas. Being what the flight operators call a "big scaredy pants", I was checking the weather conditions in Bristol and Barcelona for weeks in advance. A week before take off the weather forecast looked fine. Indeed, on the day of travel, the weather forecast was fine. And so it proved. Took off as smooth as perfectly made custard, landed in similar custard.
Unfortunately there's no weather forecast for 20,000 feet above the Pyrenees. That was where we hit turbulence. As you do, over the mountains. It's a thing. Perhaps there is a weather forecast for high above mountain ranges and I just don't know where to look. ShouldIBeShittingMyself.com.
The flight was bumpy. Very bumpy. And really, I'm saying over the Pyrenees, but it was bumpy for something like forty minutes, so that wasn't just the mountains. That was over whole other bits of France. Those winds were just tossing us around like we were an empty sardine can in a bathtub of tsunamis.
The rest of the family were sitting across the aisle. I was on an aisle seat, with a Spanish lady next to me and a young Spanish chap at the window. As the plane started wobbling around like a goat in tumble dryer, the poor bloke at the window was clearly shitting himself. He sat still, clutching the seat in front so tightly that eventually the seat would explode beneath his grip. The woman between us looked calm. And then there was me, who made the bloke at the window look like he was sat in front of a nil-nil draw between Albion Rovers and Stenhousemuir, falling asleep with a warm beer dribbling onto his lap. She kept glancing over at The Parent Currently Known As Mum, with looks that said, 'Your husband? He is scared, no? He's freaking me out. I think it would help us all if I killed him.'
My strategy for times such as these is simple: iPod on, earphones in, music at full volume, and then - and this is the crucial part - move around in time with the music as much as possible (within the confines of being strapped in on an aeroplane.) Tapped both my feet, legs moving. Bum shifting around in seat. Arms moving a little, usually jerking movements as I internally invoked Michael Stipe. I listened to the same REM song over and over. Not one of the quiet, mandolin ones from the days when they were the biggest band in the world. Something with a bit of punch.
When you shift around in your seat with your head full of sound, it partly covers up the movement of the plane. It really works. You don't get a true sense of just how much the great heap of metal is being batted around like a ping pong ball. The downside is you look a bit of a twat. The upside, you're so scared you don't care.
You know that thing where people say, 'Ah, don't worry about it, no plane ever crashed because of turbulence…'? That's just shit.
Anyway. On this occasion we didn't crash. Eventually the winds calmed down as the plane descended through the night sky towards Barcelona. The young chap at the window might even have pulled the calm lady in between us. They chatted amicably as the plane swept out over the Med for its final approach. They thought I didn't understand, but my Spanish is proficient enough that I knew they were saying things like, 'He is ostentatious in his fear. That's why his countrymen are so shit at football.'
REM saved the day. I came home and bought everything of their's that I didn't already have as a way to say thank you. And lamented for the first time that they'd split up. They will travel with me everywhere from now on.
This is the song. For all your air turbulence needs.