Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fight or Flight

I hate flying, I hate everything about it. Obviously everyone hates how cramped it is, how long it takes, the lining up for everything, and the food, but I also hate the air-conditioning, the other passengers and the part where the flight attendants talk you through what to do before you die. I even hate drinking on the plane even though I love it everywhere else. I also hate everything about the airport, including the drive to the airport. I do like flying in my dreams but that's because I can fly, and there's no plane involved. Actually there is one thing I like about planes, how they look, from the outside.

There's a reason that there was so much fuss about that plane that landed in the river in New York (apart from the great visual spectacle of it), it was because that never happens. When passenger planes hit the water, usually everyone dies. People give you that tired old argument that you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash, but it's not the likelihood of dying that I'm scared of, it's more the way you would die. Car accidents happen fast but planes take a long time to fall, long enough to panic and have regrets. 

The fear of flying hasn't stopped me traveling, when I have a long flight, I take a valium, watch a movie and try to pretend that I'm not five miles above the ocean. This was working pretty well until one day when I have a flight from Helsinki to New York and I decide, hey, I'll be brave and do without the valium for a change. It's a morning flight, only a few hours in the air, I'll be fine. Wrong. There's no movie screens on the plane at all, not even above the aisles. Screened entertainment is the only thing that makes flying bearable, if I'm watching Two and A Half Men, how could anything serious happen? Sure, I could read a book, but I didn't sleep very well last night because it never gets dark in summer in Finland, so maybe I'll just have a little sleep. 

I close my eyes and I'm just starting to forget that I'm on a plane, when a woman starts screaming. When I say 'screaming' I don't mean 'Eek a mouse!' squealing, I mean 'I just found my husband's severed head in the overhead luggage compartment' kind of screaming. Like a horror movie. And not just one scream, again and again, and not stopping. My eyes snap open and everyone's heads are spinning around like in the Exorcist, trying to see what's happening. I'm in the last row of the plane and it sounds like it's coming from behind me, in the space past the toilets where the flight attendants go to get away from the passengers, but it's curtained off and we can't see what's back there. Everyone has the same look on their faces and I assume I have it too, it says 'We're all going to die'. The only people who don't look like that are the kids across the aisle, they look excited and curious, oh to be so innocent. 

Nobody moves, everyone stays seated, waiting for someone to rescue us. After what seems like an age, two female flight attendants run down the aisle, moving quite fast in their heels, the wordless screaming stops and becomes screaming with an eastern European accent, 'They're trying to beat me! They're trying to beat me!' This goes on for a while and then an old woman is dragged out from behind the curtain and escorted to her chair only two rows away from me, her hands are tied together with those plastic things serial killers use on cop shows. The person next to her talks to the flight attendants but of course we can't hear anything over the noise of the plane and we can't tell if they're traveling together or not. 

Everyone's heads are practically exploding, so great is the desire to know what is going on, but no announcement is made, nothing at all from the pilot over the intercom thing! The hostesses walk away and there is a lot of whispering for about three minutes and then the old woman is up and running back down the plane. She trips over right next to my aisle, she falls face down and can't get up because her hands are tied. And then she starts screaming again. The 'fasten seat belts' sign comes on but they don't need it, everyone is glued to their seats. The flight attendants run back, this time with someone who might be the co-pilot. They all pick her up and carry her into the back of the plane, eventually they come out, but she does not. Again there is no word about what's happening and people start talking, all I find out is that she's Russian. About an hour later, I go to the toilet at the same time that a flight attendant is coming out from behind the curtain, and I see the old woman, she's cuffed to a chair and now she has electrical tape over her mouth, she's gagged with sticky tape! Is this really the best we can do? Her eyes fix on mine and they beg, 'Please, please untie me.' I feel bad for her, maybe she just hates flying and forgot to take a valium. 

Finally we land in New York and now the pilot makes an announcement, not 'Sorry for the disturbance', but something like, 'Please remain seated and do not remove seat belts until further notice'. We wait at least half an hour and then twelve huge New York City cops and some other people in suits, board the plane and disappear up the back. They come out with the old woman, escort her off the plane with her hand luggage, and ten minutes later we are allowed to remove seat belts and get off the plane.

Welcome to the Big Apple.

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