My international parents had me globetrotting from New York City to London, and all through Western Europe, including my dad’s native Germany and my mother’s Greece. They were both highly experienced travelers, and made sure I was up to airplane flights.
During my years growing up, mom and dad always flew separately, if I wasn’t with them. Figuring, in the rare event of a crash, I wouldn’t become an orphan. Happily, all their flights went well.
In June of 1964, dad put me on a flight at New York’s Idlewild Airport: destination London, where my mom would meet me. At 12 years old, even that transcontinental flight was not a new experience.
About 45 minutes after takeoff, a number of passengers began to feel airsick. Then, suddenly, the oxygen masks dropped down. Definitely, a new, and scary, experience. I remember the terrified faces of everyone around me, as we clumsily donned the oxygen masks. The pilot announced a U-turn with a heading back to New York City.
The problem was due to an imperfect seal on the passenger door, causing the cabin pressure to drop. It was repaired, and the flight was ready, again, to takeoff for London, again. Not this kid. I wouldn’t get back on the plane for anything. The proper term is traumatized.
I called my dad and opted for summer camp over a European trip with my folks. No discussion.
I didn’t get on a plane for more than four years, when I started interviewing at colleges. That was a white-knuckle batch of flights. Truth be told, even now that I travel 100+ days a year, there are moments I still dread it.
No matter how many times I fly, I listen to the safety instructions. I try to sit in the exit row, mostly for legroom, and to combat a bit of claustrophobia.
They always tell you that, “In the event of an emergency, a flight attendant will not be there to assist.”
That may be true, but my personal memory is that of a caring flight attendant assisting a scared 12-year old with his oxygen mask.
It’s not a perfect world, but that vital memory is one of the reasons… though I still sometimes feel the fear, I do it anyway.
Share a little sunshine with others, and it will reflect on you.