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Dianne Roth, facing her fear 
at the Portland Airport.
Dianne Roth, facing her fear
at the Portland Airport.

Dianne Roth sketching 
at Abbe de Senanque in Southern France.
Dianne Roth sketching
at Abbe de Senanque in Southern France.

Dianne Roth and Grete Luup.
a toast to Dianne’s bravery 
in a Stockholm cafe.
Dianne Roth and Grete Luup.
a toast to Dianne’s bravery
in a Stockholm cafe.

Traveling With Fear

1528 words


Finding The Courage To Travel
by Dianne Roth


Once, when I was younger, I decided that a person had only so many safe airplane flights in a lifetime (an interesting thought). Therefore, the faulty logic went, those safe flights should only be used for emergencies. There was no arguing with myself. I quit flying.

You do not have to face the errors of your thinking until the time you are faced with choices. I had a wonderful opportunity waiting for me in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The choice: Do I fly... or do I stay home?

My first call to the travel agent to book my flight ended ungraciously. I hung up on her. Well, I told her I was going to hang up. I was unable to breathe. I called her back and explained the problem. She was calm and patient with me.

For the next five weeks, my knees would buckle under me whenever a plane flew overhead.

It would be safe to say that I am afraid of flying. I know I am not alone, but I have never seen anyone else who had to be dragged into the airplane by the stewardess. I just could not step over the crack between the concourse and the plane. She grabbed me, hauled me into the galley, and cuddled me like a baby while I blubbered about how scared I was. It was not my finest moment.

I cried during the take off in Eugene. I cried during the landing in Portland. I had two more landings and take-offs before arriving in Champaign-Urbana, and that did not count the return trip. Perhaps I could walk home.

It is small comfort to report that I arrived, safe and sound, at my destination. The workshop was wonderful, the setting was delightful, the professionals were topnotch.

The flight home was horrendous. The puddle jumper to Chicago was, uh...., bumpy. The man in the seat in front of mine earned his halo that day. I grabbed his seat every time the plane responded to a low pressure spot. I bet he was glad to get off that plane!

To my great surprise I arrived home safely. Did I ever fly again? The answer is, “Yes.” Have I learned to enjoy it? “No.” I fly because the choice is to fly or not to fly. In many cases that translates into...to go or not to go. There is no middle ground.

So, how do I manage to fly with the abundant fear I carry around with me? The answer is mythology and ritual. The mythology was provided by a PhD. who was also afraid to fly. She pointed out that if you go to the airport and watch planes take off and land, you will notice something very important. Watch carefully as the plane taxis down the runway. As it lifts off and begins its ascent, the plane actually gets smaller and smaller. It miniaturizes!

That explains how something very large filled with large numbers of large people with multiple pieces of very large luggage is able to stay up in the air. It gets teeny tiny. I understand how something teeny tiny can stay up in the air.

The proof is in the landing. As the plane comes down, it gets larger and larger. Everything looks normal inside the plane. You can only tell from the ground. If you are one of those eternal doubters, just keep your opinion to yourself. I do not want to hear anything if my mythology does not fit into your world view!

Now, ritual is another thing. Watch baseball pitchers if you want to see refined ritual. All that pulling and tugging is calculated to get the ball right over home plate at a specific height and speed. It must work or they would not carry on so in front of multitudes of people and TV cameras. If it is good enough for major leagues, it is good enough for me.

My first ritual begins soon after I make my reservation. I visualize getting there and being there. I add details about the people I am going to see and places I will visit. Then, I visualize arriving back home. I rehearse driving into my driveway, noticing the changes in my garden, unpacking the car and checking through my mail. For me, it is assurance that I will get back home and things will still be pretty normal.

Second, I must always wear shoes that can not be knocked off under any circumstance (read crash). Sneakers are good. Hiking boots are better but a problem when it comes to style and getting through security. My preference is sandals but, until I found a pair of Chacos, I would change into sneakers at take-off and return to sandals after landing. Do not bother me with details on this one either. It works for me.

Next, I always commune with the plane. As I step into the cabin I give the side of the plane a friendly caress and thank it for its good work in taking care of me. I dread the day that I forget this step, only to remember at 30,000 feet. Physical restraints are not the most comfortable way to travel, but I will simply HAVE to get to the outside of the plane and give it a pat.

At the end of every flight, I thank the pilot. Never mind that the computer flies the plane. It is the pilot I thank and, as we all know, good manners are rewarded. And, then, when I have been safely returned to earth, I, mentally, go down on bended knee and kiss the ground where I know my feet belong.

One just never knows which little trick makes the difference and so far.... it has worked. You can scoff, but believe in it or not, it gets me on the plane, without a scene. Remember my choice? I fly or stay home. I choose to fly, so I rely on my mythology and rituals.

Not all of my strategies are so, shall we say, un-proven. Some even rely on science. You know the one, “Flying is safer than driving.” Statistically, this is true. But, because I am a good driver, it falls flat. Now, if I were flying the plane, it would be flown the way I drive and I could trust the numbers.

But, here is a statistic I am able to trust. At National Airport in Washington, DC, a plane lands and takes off every 90 seconds. National is where a plane slid off the runway and landed in the Potomac River several years ago. It is a tricky airport (my opinion). The plane flies down the residential-lined river at an altitude of about 20 to 30 feet. Essentially, it is eye level if you are picnicing along the bank.

A friend and I were doing just that. Sure enough, an airplane passed us, just at eye level. We glanced up river and there was another plane heading down to the river and another stacking up behind it. We began timing the airplanes as they went by us. Every one of them passed our noses 90 seconds apart. This was one airport, one day, one hour. There are many airports, many days, and 24 hours a day. Many somebodies have to know what they are doing! That is a safety record I can live with.

So, to calm myself during take-offs and landings, I simply chant, “Every 90 seconds, every 90 seconds, every 90 seconds!” Call it science, call it math, I do not care. I call it amazing!

Traveler, Rick Steves, was in Eugene a few years ago. He was asked if September 11th should change our traveling. In answering, he pointed out that Europe has been on Orange Alert since the 1980 Olympics. Get used to it. If we do not travel, the terrorists win.

It is not calming to me to know that the crazies, from D.B. Cooper to Usama Bin Laden, are out there. But, I still have the choice. Am I going to go? Or, am I going to stay home?

Airport security is our best bet. If they say take off your shoes, take off your shoes (see note about hiking boots). If they want to search you (I get searched frequently, go figure!), do not make wise cracks. If you discover you had a paring knife in your backpack and security did not catch it, hope it was the mistake of the century and be more careful next time.

Famed artist, Georgia O’Keefe, once said, “I have lived in terror all my life, but I have never let it stop me.” She and I might be filled with fear, but we are courageous beyond measure. I reward myself for being so brave. I see new places, I meet new people, I walk in historical footsteps, I experience new landscapes, I taste new food, I sit among the ruins of ancient civilizations with my sketchbook and water colors. And, as I hold my grandbabies, feel their feathery hair on my cheek, read them books, cuddle with them, and sing to them at the end of the day, I know the answer.

I will fly!


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012