I remember clearly the first time I ever flew in a plane. I was six years old, and my father and I were taking a trip, just the two of us, to visit his father in Istanbul. We boarded a Pan Am (remember them? Remember the Pan Am building in New York?) flight in New York. I remember feeling like this was the most amazing thing I would ever do, embarking on this adventure where I would defy reason and logic and actually fly. I felt like I was boarding a magical craft, one that would take me to places I could never in my wildest dreams imagine, and as a kid, I had me some wild dreams, let me tell you. I remember watching in amazement as all the lessons I had learned in school about flight were demonstrated to perfection. I remember feeling my heart beat louder and harder as the plane muscled its way faster and faster down the runway, and then the feel of my center dropping as we pulled away from the earth’s tenuous hold upon us and became, for the first time, truly air borne; carried by the winds.
I also remember the agony I endured as my ears struggled and failed to adjust to the pressurization and depressurization of the cabin. It is still probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever endured. (Parents, take note: if your child is screaming on a plane, it may very well be that their ears feel like someone is plunging icepicks into them. The only cure is to have them drink liquids; the act of swallowing will help their ears adjust to the pressure.) But despite that ordeal, I was completely and absolutely in love with this experience, and everything it implied. It’s no wonder that all my aspirations as I considered my future was somehow connected to flying; astronaut, astrophysicist, aerospace engineer, air force academy. My life has not lead me to those things, and I don’t regret it, but that love was always there.
And then, two things happened.
The first, we all remember: September 11th, and the two hijacked planes which tore into the World Trade Center buildings in New York. Buildings which I remember having family pictures taken at the top of, my mom pregnant with my brother, all of us smiling in wonderment at the view. Buildings whose destruction cast a pall of fear over every single flight I have taken since, where I cannot help but look at all my fellow passengers with a tinge of suspicion.
The second, less well remembered but happening just two months, was also plane crash, also in New York, also in 2001. With all the insanity still swirling around 9/11, as soon as it was confirmed that the cause of the crash was not related to terrorists, poeple soon forgot about it and returned to mourning and speculation around the 9/11 crash. Eventually the cause was determined to be “excessive rudder inputs to counteract wake turbulence”. Basically, what this means is that a jet took off and caused a huge amount of turbulence in the air. The jet immediately following the first one takes off, flies into that turbulence, and apparently due to the pilot’s overreaction it caused the entire tail section to shear off. However, at first the news claimed that it was due to that wake turbulence and not the pilot’s reaction to it that caused the accident.
So I have two pieces of information in my brain after that. One, terrorists are everywhere and are trying to kill us using the aircraft we take for granted. Anyone can be a terrorist. Anyone. Two, simple turbulence during takeoff can sometimes be so violent that it can shear off a plane’s tail section, which is downright impossible to recover from.
Ergo, my love of flying has been subsumed by a complete fear of flying. It did not stop me from flying, but the joy, the wonder, the feeling of being really ALIVE that I so enjoyed was completely and forever gone. Or so I thought.
Yesterday, I took a flight. I’ve taken a bunch of flights since September 11th, 2001. But this one was different. Sure, the terrorists and wind shear and turbulence were all still in my head. But this flight? This flight, to a place that is not at all special, for reasons not at all interesting or exciting – this flight was different. This time, the fear and suspicions faded into the background, and once again I enjoy the rush and the rumble of the engines as we tear down the runway and leap up into the blue.
I think next year I will take flying lessons.