The woman opposite me picked up the phone and cleared her throat.
“Ehem, ladies and gentlemen,” she said, in a strong New York accent. “Welcome aboard this American Airlines flight from New York JFK airport to Ronald Reagan international.”
There’s something about the vaguely bored tone air stewardesses give when speaking over the public address system that I find comforting. It says it all. Mainly what it says is ‘I’ve done this a million times before, and it’s all ridiculously routine’. This tone is the perfect antidote for the more sweaty-palmed flyers (such as myself).
The stewardess opposite me – I was in the first row of seats, taking advantage of the extra legroom – could barely have sounded more bored as she spoke. We were about a minute into a flight, climbing steeply with takeoff, and I was looking up to where she was seated – shoulder straps securing her to the cabin wall.
“We’ll be flying at an altitude of…”
This is where things changed. Suddenly the bored tone had gone – this had probably something to do with the climbing plane’s sudden loss of altitude. Rather than talking, this seasoned air stewardess screamed (I do not use that word lightly) into the telephone.
If an stewardess acting nonchalantly makes a passenger feel calm, seeing one panic has quite the opposite effect. I don’t know how long she screamed for, it must have been several seconds as the plane plunged towards the ground.
Then, as suddenly as it started, the plane’s descent halted and we began to climb once more. With this, the air stewardess straightened her clothes and continued in her previous tone.
“We will be climbing to a height of…”
At that moment my lack of enjoyment at flying became a full grown phobia.
It is into this context that a flight home to Manchester, with Sam and his mum, can be placed. It was only a short internal hop – less than an hour. But I’d been dreading it for weeks. People kept saying “Oh… it’ll be nice to head home for a few days…” to which my (non-verbal) reply was always – “Yes, if we survive the flight.” This is the fundamental thing that those who have no qualms about flying don’t truly understand. For me, although I know it is much safer than a common or garden car journey, I feel like getting on a plane is a dangerous activity. Something to be survived, not savoured.
When I get on a plane I scrutinize my fellow passengers, casting them in an airborne version of the Poseidon Adventure. Who will be an asset in an emergency? Who’ll be Shelley Winters?
So you can imagine getting onto a plane for the first time with Sam and his mother was a little – read ‘massively’- stressful. What if he does nothing but scream? What if we have turbulence? What if..?
So how did it go?
Seriously I wish I’d always taken a baby with my when flying. He loved it. Sam giggled through takeoff and spent the flight either sleeping or chewing on the safety briefing laminates. As a side note – I wonder if there are any other objects on the face of the planet that must taste more strongly of stale sweat than safety cards on a flight? My palms are clammy just thinking about one.
Having another focus, beyond myself and my fear of impending doom was so useful for a terrible flyer like me. He took me out of my head and into the moment which – although it was thoroughly strange to be in a metal tube among the clouds – was nowhere near as bad as my imaginings of what could go wrong.
I’ll look forward to many more flights with my little lad, who at 10 months is a jet-setter.
If you’re an air steward or stewardess and you see me on a flight, please try to look bored.
The Out of Depth Dad