Saturday, April 29, 2006

Not a lot of people know this ....

Hello, I’m Jackie Winspear, and I’m late. I had planned to write on the flight from New York yesterday, but my laptop was out of battery power. However, while we’re on the subject of flying ....
I have a confession, something I have not made widely known – not that you would, if you were me. I have become afraid of flying. Yes, even I can see a joke or two there, but the fact remains that I have come to hate flying - a bit of an impediment when looking at my travel schedule for the summer, which includes a major book tour for my fourth novel, MESSENGER OF TRUTH. Booksellers and readers, do not worry: I will be there. I will not run from the ‘plane, my arms flailing, like Meg Ryan in French Kiss. This little issue of fear will not ground me.
Of course, it is a bit rich, because nigh on thirty years ago I was a flight attendant, only we were called airline stewardesses in those days, and wore natty little uniforms with hats and gloves. Three years of tertiary education had left me penniless, so I thought the easiest way to accomplish my goal of major worldwide travel was to work for an airline. It’s a bit like when I decided the most effective way to indulge my book habit was to work in publishing, only I ended up in academic publishing – as far removed from general books as you can imagine - and found nothing gratifying in compiler design or graduate-level accounting. Mind you, I was lucky to get the job, being an ex-airline stewardess.
As soon as I board a flight, I scope out the exits. Then I scope out the people sitting at the exits. When I was flying, our chief safety officer – a stocky man with a wicked sense of humor who’d been a Battle of Britain pilot and later flown into Templehof Airport during the Berlin airlift – always said that, in an emergency, it was important to delegate a few passengers to help, but never pick the Adonis because he’d be the first to crumple. Choose the people who look ordinary, he’d said, because ordinary people will always rise to the occasion. I’ve never had to test the hypothesis, thank God, but I still case the candidates.
And it’s not as if I’ve ever been in a serious emergency, though I was a “stew” at a time when every terrorist group in Europe seemed to be hijacking. I’ve been on the flight deck jump seat for take off and landing loads of times, and – wait for it – even took the controls of a DC-10 over the Libyan desert. Really, I did, but I had better shut up before the FAA and CAA want to know more.
So, as the book tour looms, I am trying to get to grips with this fear. I close my eyes on take-off – even though landing is, statistically, more dangerous – and I mutter a mantra I learned in a yoga class a few years ago. When I started work as a stewardess my parents bought me a gold St. Christopher. It was like a gong, a huge thing that hung around my neck and sometimes bounced up and hit me on the nose. I asked them whether they thought my chances of survival were in direct proportion to the size of St. Chris. They didn’t admit it, but of course, that’s exactly what they thought. I took it off, eventually. There seemed something risky in displaying such an obvious coin of safety’s realm, along with a semi-permanent bruise on my snout. But now, every time I go back to my parents house in England, I take the necklace from the box and hold it for a while, as if it has the power to fly me safely back home again.


  1. What a wonderful post! I share your fear of flying, though it's gotten better since I put myself under a hypnotist's care once in Boulder, Colorado. I was supposed to fly to Florida with my two-year-old twins, and figured that was not a scenario in which tranquilizers should play a large part.

    The hypnotist felt that my phobia had arisen out of a series of car crashes during my teens, at which I had not been at the wheel of the car.

    All went well, and I felt great about the upcoming flight as my husband drove us toward the Denver airport in the pre-dawn darkness. Until we were broadsided by a woman in a large sedan, who'd skidded through a stoplight due to a light powdering of snow. So, that seemed like a message from on high that I shouldn't get on the plane. We instead made our way home with a cab driver who lectured us on the means by which the federal government was testing radio identification devices on cattle, in preparation for demanding they be injected into all human citizens.

    Meanwhile, when I was five, I wanted to be a stewardess.

    Thanks again for the wonderful post, and I hope all your flights are turbulence-free this summer!

  2. The truth can now be told. I never fly without my lucky earrings, and as a backup I silently hum "Up, up and away on my beautiful balloon" on take off. So far, so good.

  3. I get the Mr.T syndrome also.

    Yay, Jackie!!!

  4. Hi Jackie,

    Good to see you here...

    I'm actually beginning to be just a tad less bothered by flying. I guess familiarity is breeding a bit of nonchalance.

    It used to be that I couldn't sleep on planes, the theory being that if I slept, the plane would fall out of the sky. Used to make for some interesting out-of-body experiences after transatlantic flights from the west coast.

    Now, I just need my trusty iPod and some Excedrin PM, and I'm good to go. Until there's turbulence. But that's a whole other story ;-)

  5. Thank goodness for beta-blockers is all I can say... and complimentary alcohol!

  6. I can totally relate to this. I used to love to fly, but something changed on a flight from Madrid to New York about 12 years ago that paralyzed me. I suddenly became afraid.

    Now I take Xanax to fly. My doctor says if the plane crashes, I won't care. All I know is, it works and it gets me where I have to go.