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I never flew before

The big day

As I set on the bed I took some time to let it sink in, the day had arrived for which I spend two months preparing and worrying. I heard my wife busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast, an air of excitement and vacation optimism rose from all noises she produced.
The contrast couldn’t have been greater, since we booked the flight to Kraków two months earlier I hardly thought about the vacation it self. I was going to fly for the first time and everything that would happen after that was unimaginable.
I got up and headed to the shower, as I stood under the hot water I realized that I actually slept reasonably well. Good! Those pills the doctor subscribed worked!
My wife tactically avoided the subject and gave me all the time I needed to get ready. I ate a little breakfast and visited the toilet a couple of times. Already with her coat on she gently announced it was time for us to go so I grabbed my suitcases and we were off.
We met up with our travel companions at the station before catching the train to Eindhoven (small Dutch city) from where we would take the bus to the airport.  As I was sitting in the bus I realized that the flight was actually going to be shorter than the journey from our house to the airport. Eindhoven NL to Kraków PL is actually only 1 hour and 40 minutes by air, not more then a hop for the veteran flyer but a good eternity for the fear stricken novice.
In all my worries over the past months the thought of waiting around on the airport made me break out in a cold sweat. It seemed the pinnacle of anticipation and I would have to endure that feeling for more then an hour. Multiple times I’ve mentioned that if I could hop on a plane as one can hop on a train I would have probably flown 10 years ago. It’s the waiting around which truly made me dread that first time.
However I also spend two months preparing in all sorts of ways and I packed the pills subscribed by my doctor. Surprisingly the checkin went much faster than I expected and I felt pretty confident, what’s going on here?
After customs I walked around bought something to drink and went to the toilet. After that I stared at the monitor in the hall for our flight number to popup. Around me people where busy with kids and shopping in the tax free shop. Not to many people seemed occupied with their gate number.
In the midst of all this I felt a bit proud of myself, here I was waiting for my plane and I wasn’t running around screaming as I imagined I would. Sure I had the pills of the doctor helping me a little but those don’t make you feel confident and that’s exactly what I felt, I was confident that I could do this.
When the gate number finally appeared we quickly made our way to the gate. Eindhoven airport is very small so the walk wasn’t more then 150 meters. Standing first inline I could see the pink white plane of WizzAir getting ready for boarding.

What a mind job and booking the flight

For people that have been flying their whole life, or at least a big part of it, it’s sometimes hard to understand that someone is afraid of it. If you never flown before or did fly before but still get the chills when you need to again you probably heard all the “motivators”, well mend advice but usually nothing you already know and therefor not particularly helpful. It’s like telling a smoker that smoking is bad for your health, he lives daily with his addiction so chances are that he probably knows that already.
“It’s the safest way of traveling!”, usually one of the first things people shout. Lets put that statement a little bit in perspective, yes it’s a very safe way of traveling but it’s no safer than traveling by train for instance. But that’s a good thing! Something to compare it with, ask yourself how safe you feel in the train. Chances are you never gave a train journey a second though. Even when the train sometimes shakes or makes a noise it usually doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. Being in a plane in flight actually feels very similar to a train moving on smooth tracks. So the physical travel experience is comparable.
“But why are you afraid of flying?” Strange enough that question is hard to answer because we know the odds of dying in a plane crash are negligible and even if you have a fear of heights, as I do, that doesn’t really apply in an airplane.
Humans are born with only two primal fears, fear of falling and fear of noise, all others are thought. We know we can get over our primal fears, better yet we often even enjoy them! Some people jump from a bridge with a rope tied to their feet, I’m not one of them and do not feel I’m missing out on something.
The way I explain it is with what I call the lottery effect; all players play for the jackpot although they know the chances of winning are very slim at best. Fear of flying works on the same principle, we know the chances of the plane crashing are very tinny but we fear to win the jackpot.
I’ve been trying to get on my first flight since I was 16 (at the time of writing I’m 31), but I always managed to fool my self with a random excuse that I couldn’t do it that year.
So on a warm evening in June when my cat attempted to leap out of the window, friends visited and my wife suggested a collective vacation to Poland. It caught me by surprise and my excuses bag was empty. Air travel is by no means “hop on hop of” and with the flight booked in August the two month nerve test had started.

The flight
Gripping my boarding pass tight I walked over the tarmac. Aside from the priority boarders I was front runner, after two months of stress, nerves and preparation I was eager to get it over with. Consciously putting on foot after the other I made my way to the plane.

Looking back I can almost count the steps of the stairs leading up to the airplane. Flashes of waving presidents, kings and queens on top of those stairs flashed through my head, “Look at us! We’re back on the ground again” and they waved. Before I could pursue that though any further I met the friendly face of the stewardess. I handed her my papers and walked inside.

I took my seat at the windows in the front row, close to the exit and opposite of the cabin crew. About a week back I decided that if I was going to fly I wanted to at least experience it to it’s fullest by having a good view. My wife took her seat next to me and as I started to look around a man entered the plane whom to my great surprise started to take of his pants. The stewardess was quick to act and managed to reverse the activity and took the man to the side. A couple of minutes later the same stewardess approached me and asked if I could move to the aisle seat. Disappointed I decided to comply and moved. Unsteady the drop-pants guy made his way to my previous seat, as he squeezed him self passed me I was overwhelmed by the smell of alcohol on him. Just my luck, I thought, my first flight and I have to make way for a drunk. Even worse for my wife whom had to sit next to him. Quickly I decided that worrying about flying would be enough so I let the matter rest.

It wasn’t long until the stewardess closed the door and the plane was pushed away from the gate.

As the lonely passenger watching the safety instruction I listened to all the sounds the plane was making. Through the chatter of the passengers I heard the engines spinning up.

I imagined myself a passenger on the Millennium Falcon  with Harisson Ford behind the sticks it promised to be an exciting ride, Chewy giving a scream of excitement and princes Leya checking her lipstick, we were of.

Okay I like to fantasy's a little to take the tension out of situations like this. By the time I finished smiling about the thought the plane turned onto the runway. While it continued rolling the engines roared. Not so much a straining roar but more a confident one, I’m gona throw this here airoplane a coupla klicks into the air.

The plane really started moving, exited I peered out of the small window seeing the landscape pass by faster and faster. For a moment I couldn’t believe I lost so much sleep over this. Only from looking outside I noticed that we actually left the ground, I felt relieve there in that moment I was flying for the first time. The feeling was short lived though, as I kept looking out of the window the plane made a sharp turn and suddenly the ground moved out of sight and was replaced by a view of the sky. In a reflex I closed my eyes turned my head and locked my jaw. The stewardess sitting in front of me on her foldout chair read the panic on my face and immediately engaged me in a conversation. “The weather isn’t great today”, she said smiling her friendly smile. “I wouldn’t know I have no previous flight to compare it with”, I replied. This seemed to really interest her. She told me about her husband whom never flown before and how they booked a flight 4 months from now, poor guy I thought.

Our little chitchat really distracted me and as the seatbelt light went off she explained again to me that the weather wasn’t great. Not that it was raining or windy, worse then that, we were leaving from Eindhoven airport where it was 16 degrees, however around Kraków it was 34 degrees and really stuffy. Above Poland the sky was preparing a potent thunderstorm to be unleashed that evening. Which mend turbulent skies.

Within 10 minutes the seatbelt light was back on. I never took mine off so for me nothing changed, my wife strapped her self in and the drunk guy next to us was still figuring out how to unbuckle.

I realized I was wrong before by saying I wouldn’t know what bad weather would be like in an airplane, the plane started shaking and it didn’t stop shaking for the rest of the flight. The seatbelt light stayed on and the pilot apologized twice for the weather as if his brother was the one responsible for it that day.

Luckily in the past two months I decided to make my first flight a research project and didn’t decide to stick my head in the sand and ignore it. However unpleasant, and it was, I knew it wouldn’t pose a great risk to the airplane. So I decided to peek out of the window again.

It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the light, the sun reflected back up from the clouds making for a very bright view. I peered over a rough white sea of clouds that gradated back into dark blues at the horizon, a hostile alien landscape made of vapor. It turned out to be an emotional moment where dreams and fear came together in an unexpected balance.

Movement next to us, faint mumbling. The drunk guy awoke from his slumber, he had to pee. Very politely he asked my wife if she speaks Polish, yes my wife replied. He explained that he had some trouble with taking his seatbelt of, if my wife could enlighten him to the workings of the mechanism. The matter was really quite urgent as he needed to visit the restroom. My wife in turn explained that the seatbelt light is on and so he isn’t allowed to get out of his seat. A dumb founded face answered her explanation. But I have to pee, he mumbled after being quiet for a few seconds. Shifting around in his seat he looked out of the window.

To my surprise he grabbed his mobile phone out of his pocket and started writing a text message. Immediately I started chanting to myself that mobile phones can’t really hurt airplanes. I kept repeating the line like a mantra, “mobile phones don’t hurt airplanes, mobile phones don’t hurt airplanes.”

When he finally got bored with his phone, he started fumbling with the seatbelt again. To my great surprise he asked my wife again if she speaks Polish, yes she answered. He explained her that he really has to pee, the urgency of the situation could be read from his face. My wife repeated the story about the seatbelt light. At this point I’m actually hoping that he manages to undo his seatbelt as I don’t want to imagine the rest of the flight with a guy next to us that stinks of alcohol and pis. My wife gave up on him, "let the cabin crew take care of him", she whispered. Our combined will seemingly had some effect, a moment later he managed to figure out the complex inner workings of the seatbelt and managed to free him self. Clumsy but without major incidents he maneuvered him self past us and headed to the toilet. Only to discover that the toilet door was locked, desperately he scanned around for the stewardess. A moment later one of the stewardesses appeared from behind the curtain where they had setup their temporary kitchen. A short conversation took place between the two, with a defeated face the stewardess unlocked the toilet door and the drunk guy dashed inside. Undoubtedly the only person feeling relieved at that time in the plane.

When he returned from the toilet he continued playing with his phone until the stewardess caught him doing it. With fire in her eyes and a pointing finger she demanded respect and our drunken pants dropper made his phone disappear. I secretly fell in love for a moment.

A whole lot of shaking later the plane started its decent. As soon as I could see the ground again I started looking outside. Below me the Polish country side.

We past the airport and after a sharp turn the flight entered its last minutes. Not much later the tires hit the tarmac and the plane slammed on the breaks. The only thing I did was laugh, big laughs of relieve letting out 2 months of tension and stress.

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