Overcoming Aerophobia

by swellsbennett

I hate to fly.

I know aerophobia isn’t a particularly unique affliction. I also know that because I suffer from a fear of heights (acrophobia), a fear of flying was almost inevitable.

In the past, I managed to overcome both fears because of my love of traveling. Nothing makes me happier than stepping into a city I’ve never explored before. Be it Chicago or Rome, the prospect of seeing new sights and encountering unfamiliar people is thrilling.

A few years ago, though, my aerophobia got the best of me. On our way back to Phoenix after an amazing Italian adventure, Dan and I found ourselves sitting just in front of an old man who insisted the engine “sounded funny” to him. He even called the stewardess over – repeatedly – to tell her to alert the captain. By the time we touched down in Phoenix, I was a nervous wreck. I got off the plane wanting to kiss the ground. For more than two-and-a-half years, I blanched every time Dan talked about us taking a flight. I all but convinced myself that if we couldn’t drive to a destination, it simply wasn’t worth going. My dreams of seeing London, Paris, and Sydney faded. Even the thought of visiting New York seemed nearly impossible – the drive was simply too long. In fact, the only places I have been in the last two years are California and Nevada.

Of course, I knew my fear was ridiculous. Fewer people die in airplanes than are killed by hippos annually. Admittedly, I don’t encounter huge populations of hippos in Phoenix, but still – the odds seem to be in my favor regarding air travel. So, a few months ago, I booked a flight to Little Rock to visit my friend Emma and her daughter. I hadn’t seen Emma since right after her daughter was born – when she packed up and left Arizona for good.

As the day of my flight approached, I fought off multiple bouts of nerves. I would be sitting calmly, not thinking about anything in particular, when suddenly I would remember my upcoming trip and recognize that tremor of fear at my core. Dan, who was not traveling with me, offered to cancel the trip more than once, but I knew I had to take the flight if I were ever going to overcome the fear. It helped to know Emma was looking forward to my visit – I would be disappointing her if I didn’t go.

Last Tuesday, the day before my flight, was busy. I had every minute scheduled: packing, writing blog posts to cover the days I would be gone, finishing edits on a book, even attending a birthday party for my father. The tight schedule left me exhausted and lacking time to contemplate the horror of flying.

The next morning, Dan drove me to the airport and dropped me off. I made it through the checkpoint without incident and found a restaurant in which to eat breakfast. I had a mimosa, too, just in case you were wondering. By the time I sat down on the plane, I was mellow. After takeoff, I pulled out my Harry Chapin music and slid into a comfortable half-sleep. No one tried to talk to me – of course, the huge headphones I wore definitely conveyed the message that I wasn’t interested in a chat.

Arkansas, which has been suffering a terrible drought this summer, actually had a rainstorm the afternoon I arrived. The landing was a little on the bumpy side, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, the whole flight was fairly anticlimactic.

I stepped off the plane and felt that rush of adventure again for the first time in two-and-a-half years. How ridiculous that I let the words of some old man keep me from traveling! I swear I won’t do that again. Ever.

The Old Mill in Little Rock — just one of the many sights I would have missed if I had let aerophobia win.

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