Fear of Flying

Above the clouds, flying to London from San Francisco in wet stormy weather, we were taking off in the rain and the pilot said for us to keep our seatbelts fastened as the turbulence brought on by the storm was going to be rocky. It was. But after so many flights over the past few years I feel rather unphased by any normal atmospheric event. It is simply part of the routine of flying. How different from the days past when the white knuckled crew would watch with clenched fists as the plane made its takeoff. What has happened in the interim? Why don’t people applaud any more when the plane lands safely? Have we been seduced into thinking flying is safe? Or does it have more to do with a different sense of mortality. I’m not sure what it is, but certainly there seems to be less people concerned with flying nowadays.

Remember the book, The Fear of Flying? The title had a resonance even though it wasn’t about flying at all because there were so many people back then who actually were terrified of going up in an aircraft. Somehow there’s been a real change in attitude. Flying has become the norm. Everyone flies and few think much of it. What does it mean that the entire process has become so ordinary? Even now, when I look out the porthole window at the mountains below – is it Colorado we’re flying over or Montana? Who knows? It has lost its allure. I could just as easily be watching TV. Even though the mountains below are ‘real’ as distinct from an image, there is something ‘unreal’ about it. It could just as easily be an image projected onto the exterior glass. It’s not. And it wouldn’t be. But the sensation of ‘image’ being imposed rather than a real scene of some magnificent topography is very strong. Seen from above, from this height, everything is unreal. It is not understood as actual geography. The snow on the mountaintop that we have just flown over could be frosted sugar as far as I know. It has that sense of the surreal. And yet another side of me is aware that there is a miracle happening. I am flying. I am flying over some of the tallest mountains and over the great prairies of America. And I am flying over masses of land, very quickly. Land that would have taken months to pass over not so very long ago. Land that was unremittingly harsh and extraordinarily beautiful. We miss the tactile and the visceral when we fly. It’s all so ordinary. It’s all so mundane. Ah, so. What has life become except an image of reality? So we have all become ‘The boy in the bubble’. Protected from life so that we can never experience the pain, the agony, the beauty of the real world. Is that why people no longer fear to fly?

12 April 06