A turbulent worry

A turbulent worry

I never used to be afraid of flying in an airplane. After all, it’s supposed to be the safest method of travel, right? The number of car accidents that occur in any given time are no doubt more than airplane crashes. But being a “worry-wort”, statistics do little to ease my mind.

            Usually all my worries start the same way. One thing happens to someone and it becomes the focal point of my fear. One time, there was this one person who had a headache and it turned out to be a brain tumor. I wondered, if it happened to someone else, couldn’t it happen to me?

            Like most every other worry, my recent fear of plane crashes was brought on by one thing: Last summer’s crash of Air France Flight 447. During its scheduled flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, France, the plane disappeared from radar surveillance after a series of automatic warnings and failure messages were transmitted by the aircraft. In the days that followed, bodies and debris from the airplane were discovered in the Atlantic Ocean about where the plane lost contact. All 216 passengers and 12 crew members are missing and therefore presumed dead. It has been said to be the deadliest commercial airline crash in nine years.

            For some reason on my study abroad flight going to China, these concerns slipped my mind. It wasn’t until I was in China that I really started to think about that Air France crash. I said to my friends, “Planes are not safe. I mean, look what happened to that Air France plane.”  Some friends were comforting, responding with “Do you know how many planes make it to their destinations safely?”

            Some friends weren’t as supportive and took to although not malicious; still in fact mockery the same day as my flight from Beijing to Chicago. After telling one friend in particular that my seat was in either row H or K, he said “I heard H and K are the most unsafe rows in the plane.” And after reading a source that said the chances of crashing during an international flight were one in two million and sharing it with him, he said, “You know, I heard that this pilot flying us, it’s his 1,999,999th flight and he hasn’t had a crash yet.” He had a good laugh.

            Trying my hardest to put my fears behind me, I told myself that regardless of what plane crashes have or haven’t happened, I’m going to be on that flight so I might as well not worry about it. Still, I couldn’t get over the fact that a giant, multi-ton thing was flying through the air at over 500 miles an hour over Siberia and the Arctic Ocean. How could that be safe? It wasn’t until I had the properties of Physics explained to me that I understood.

            About an hour or so into the international flight a few weeks ago, I was doing fine, watching in-flight movies and eating pretzels. It wasn’t until a red light began blinking near the emergency exit, the pilot made an announcement for the flight attendants to be seated, and the plane began shaking violently that I had a near-panic attack.

            Although a flight attendant told me it was merely a bit of bad turbulence over Russia and the shaking subsided, the knot in my stomach remained for the majority of the flight. At every bump and shake the plane made I tensed up, so worried I could barely touch my in-flight meal.

Regardless of the bumps and the nerves and the near-panic, the plane landed safely, on schedule at O’Hare International Airport 12 hours later. Before I knew it, I was back at home in Fort Atkinson, safe from the big scary airplane. Like every headache I have had that turned out to be nothing, this worry yet again turned out to be nothing. Us worry-worts put ourselves through so much.

            Like many have said, everything you do is potentially a risk, but you can’t let it stop you from living your life. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…

            If this experience and the ones before it have taught me anything, it’s to go with the flow and cross the bridge when you get to it.

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