Remember when flying was fun? When your luggage flew for free and security meant checking to make sure you hadn't forgotten your ticket?
When I was a kid, flying was a big deal. It was expensive (by my family's standards, at least) and people still got dressed up to travel. Flying was such a special event that I remember exactly what I wore for my first flight — to Florida when I was 12 years old. My mom had made me a brand new outfit: heather brown elephant bell pants, a melon colored halter top and a cropped, window-pane-checked jacket with short princess sleeves. Wait, don't forget the platform sandals — the literal and figurative height of '70s fashion.
We were not a family of frequent flyers. My dad was, and still is, terrified of flying. His first flight, from Detroit to New York, was so turbulent that he took a train home. When he did have to fly for work, the only way he managed was with "greenies" and martinis. In other words, he was flying before he even boarded the plane.
Fear of flying takes many forms: some hate the takeoffs, others dread the landings; some fear crashing, others are troubled by turbulence. Then there is the airplane agoraphobic — the one who fears being stuck someplace where help may not be available.
For me, flying BC (before children) meant adventure — exotic vacations or weddings or warm-weather getaways in the middle of winter. I was always excited, not scared. Even the mishaps were exciting. Once, on a trip home to Detroit from Jamaica, we tried to outrun a winter storm and ended up on a Cleveland runway for 13 hours. The plane had no food, but plenty of alcohol and everyone was loaded with liquid happiness when our pilot, Captain Bobo (I'm not making that up) told us we would be taking off again and landing in New York just in time for New Year's Eve.
After I had children, I would get a little nervous when I flew alone, wondering what would happen to them if something happened to me, but the danger seemed remote. Flying with children, on the other hand, is a whole different kind of adventure and, for our family of six, prohibitively expensive. These days, when we travel en masse, it's by car.
Last week I encountered a new kind of airborne angst: putting my child on a plane by herself. She's 16 and has flown alone before, but this trip felt different. I worked hard to find a non-stop flight (we couldn't have her stranded in, say, Atlanta if her connecting flight fell through), but even that didn't completely set my mind at ease.
She was thrilled to be heading off to a creative writing residency and didn't seem nervous at all until it was time for us to part so she could go through security. Suddenly, the idea of hanging out alone for an hour or so before boarding became overwhelming and she got a little teary. This was completely unfair. Now I had to suck it up and be the calm, reassuring grown up. I hate when that happens.
I'm happy to report that she arrived without a hitch 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and called me shortly after she deplaned, chatty and cheerful in the custody of her grandparents. I have yet to recover.
Just in case you were wondering, as I often do, here is Orville Wright's concise explanation of the phenomenon of flight: "The airplane stays up because it doesn't have time to fall." Don't you feel better?
Have any fabulous travel plans this summer — flying or driving? Click here to air your qualms or share your tips.