“Are there devils with halos in beautiful capes taking them into the flames…”

The book The Secret Language of Birthdays tells me I “must beware of accidents, particularly sports injuries, car accidents, and climbing, swimming, and flying mishaps.”

Flying mishaps.

I am terrified of air travel. And it’s not just because of my experience with JetBlue. There’s something about being in a huge metal tube thousands of feet in the air going hundreds of miles per hour that doesn’t sit right with me.

Takeoff is the worst part. Although this may be my opinion, statistics show that the highest percentage of fatalities occur right after takeoff, during the climb: a 25% fatality rate with an 8% accident rate. Therefore, it’s not very likely that you’ll crash, but if you do there’s a 1 in 4 chance you won’t survive.

I remember the first time I flew with Tova. The airplane was accelerating down the runway. My palms began to sweat, as they always do in this situation. Tova was talking to me, but I was too distracted by fear. I felt the plane leave the ground. I was trying to avoid looking towards the front of the cabin, so as not to see the angle of the aisle during the plane’s ascend. Also, I was trying to refrain from glancing out of any windows. There’s no where to go. Your life is in someone else’s hands. Turning back is not a choice, you are confined to this area for the duration of your flight.

Tova stopped talking. She looked concerned. “You’re really not okay with this, are you?” she asked. I must have looked as anxious as I felt. All I could hear in my head was: engine failure, an explosion, a slight mistake by the pilot, the plane breaking apart, a midair collision…

This is me during takeoff. Every time.

Then the plane reaches cruising altitude and I can somewhat relax. The aircraft noise lessens, that terrifying angle is no more, and the captain turns off the seat belt sign. At this point, it’s a little easier to pretend that I’m on land.

Unfortunately, sometimes there is turbulence. Even the tiniest bump feels like an anvil dropped on my chest. Usually, I look around and see that everyone else is unaffected. Is this normal? I ask myself. Another jolt of the plane, and the captain turns the seat belt sign back on. He asks the passengers to remain seated. My state of near-tranquility is ruined. I sit back and wonder if every shake of the aircraft will be the last, and if so, will it be because of a smoother altitude, or because the wing of the plane rips off and we are plummeting to our deaths?

Many people have told me that landing bothers them. Landing scares me, but not nearly as much as takeoff and turbulence. To me, landing simply means that we will be back on the ground soon. However, the highest percentage of accidents do occur during final approach and landing: a 51% accident rate with an 18% fatality rate. So, it’s more likely that you’ll crash but less likely that you’ll die.

No one can explain what it’s like to die in a plane crash. There isn’t a soul left from TWA flight 800 to explain what it was like when the center wing fuel tank exploded and the plane broke into pieces over the Atlantic. Some of the seat backs were disconnected when the plane broke apart, causing the still conscious passengers to be jerked out of their seat belts and fall over two and half miles to the ocean. Considering the fact that a body reaches terminal velocity after falling for a little less than a mile (500 feet), the water may as well have been cement. It’s likely the event was so traumatizing that these free-fallers, though awake, were not really aware of what was happening to them. Still, we can never know.

Additionally, there is no one left to tell us about the last few moments of AirFrance flight 447, another tragedy were everyone met their fate in the Atlantic Ocean. The end of TWA flight 800 came as a surprise to those aboard, but AirFrance flight 447 was flying through a severe thunderstorm, likely causing violent turbulence before it went down. Violent turbulence. That’s how they spent their last few moments alive. In violent turbulence.

There is also United flight 811. This disaster allowed for survivors, but it sounds terrifying nonetheless. After flying for only 16 minutes and at an altitude of nearly four miles, a grinding noise was heard followed by a loud thud that shook the aircraft. Then the forward cargo door suddenly blew open. Two rows of seats plus one additional passenger were sucked out of the cabin and killed. Reports found human remains in the fan blades of one of the engines. They say that this is fortunate, because it means some of those ejected may have died almost instantly.

A flight attendant for Delta once told me that if you hear three consecutive dings mid-flight, that means there is an emergency. Most accidents are caused by mechanical failures in the aircraft. The odds of being killed on a flight when flying one of the top 25 airlines is one in 13.57 million. (That number drops significantly if you’re flying one of the bottom 25 airlines, “top” and “bottom” being determined by safety records.)

I leave Wednesday morning for Omaha. For this trip, I am flying by myself. For Christmas I am flying to Virginia, but thankfully Tova will be there to talk me through it.

I do wish myself and everyone the safest holiday travels.

2 Responses to ““Are there devils with halos in beautiful capes taking them into the flames…””

  1. jen Says:

    seriously ash. i can give you something for this.

  2. Airplane Seat Selection (“You can have the past ’cause I’m in love with the future…”) | Keep My Words Says:

    [...] week I finally booked my flights for New Orleans and Bonnaroo.  As usual, the seat selection process was quite [...]

Leave a Reply