I have a love/hate relationship with flying. The fact that for relatively cheap prices you can get across the country in no time at all is a real perk. The propulsion you feel as the plane hits that take-off speed and the tires lift from the asphalt is incredible. Even the little packages of cookies are great. For me, it’s the landing I can’t stand. With sensitive ears, the swelling pressure in my head makes it feel as if my eyes will explode from their sockets.
I remember the first time it happened. It was three years ago. I hadn’t flown in nearly a decade, but suddenly I found myself on a plane to Newfoundland for a summer working at Memorial University. While the ride was enjoyable enough (I remember watching Boston Legal for the first time and since then I’ve watched the entire series twice), the landing made me face my mortal existence. It started with my ears feeling clogged. Then a small headache began to develop near the front of my brain. As the pressure built so did the pain, until I felt like there must be a blood clot in my brain ready to blow my head clear off my neck; irrational as that may be.
So finding myself at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport on August 30th, with a cross-Atlantic flight before me, I had mixed feelings. I was certainly excited about flying to Europe for a month long adventure, but that pain… it was a more pressing concern.
I went through security without a problem and met my friend, Natasha, in the lounge area. We would be taking this flight together. The flight began to board and the two of us walked down the long chute-like hallway and reached the door to the plane. The crack between the hallway and door showed a small glimpse of the ground far below. Cautiously, I stepped over the crack and smiled at the female flight attendant standing before me. She pointed me in the direction of my seat, which seemed silly all things considered. Stepping onto the front of the plane, there was only one direction to go, but I’m sure she just meant it to be a friendly gesture.
Because I was flying Iceland Air, each of the headrests had a fun fact about Iceland. I found my seat and began my process. I took a magazine, headphones, gum, and a bottle of water out of my knapsack before sliding the bag under my seat. I put my supplies in the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me, buckled my seat belt, and leaned my head back against the Icelandic factoid. I was in a middle seat with Natasha sitting at the window and a quiet man sitting to my left. I was pleased to see the small television screen built into the back of the seat in front of me.
A woman’s voice came over the PA system, welcomed us aboard and explained the emergency plan in case of plane problems. The flight attendants stood in the aisles and did their all too familiar dance: pointing to the six exits, demonstrating how to use the oxygen mask that will fall in case of a change in cabin air pressure, and showcasing the flotation vest.
Once they were finished their presentation, the lights dimmed and the seat belt sign lit up. There was no turning back. The airplane slowly began to inch its way to the tarmac in the darkness of the night and before I knew it we were in line for take off. There seems to always be that moment of dead stop before all the engines are switched on full and you’re pressed into your seat. I was propelled back as the plane barreled forward.
My stomach rose to the back of my throat as the nose of the plane tilted to the sky and the wheels left the runway. It’s in these moments that I become incredibly Catholic. I did the sign of the cross and began with my Hail Mary’s. If I’m going to die and face the Almighty, I’m going out with a prayer on my lips.
And then we were airborne. The plane turned to the right in the air and for a moment there was uncertainty of which way was up. Up and up we rushed, until the plane finally leveled out and we were on our way. I finished the last of my prayers and turned on the TV in front of me. It was a four hour flight to Iceland and then another five hours to our destination in Paris. Three movies and a pack of cookies later, we were descending.
Before they announce that we’d almost arrived and were preparing out descent, I could feel it in my ears. The slow descent starts and the pressure builds immediately. I had read, after my first horrible flight, that drinking water could help since it causes you to swallow repetitively. So that’s what I did. I took out my liter of water, tipped the bottle back, and sipped it slowly and consistently. At the same time, I chewed loudly on three pieces of gum. The pressure built anyway and the headache started. But the feeling of my head exploding never comes and we land without too much suffering.
On safe ground for only a temporary stay in Iceland, I desperately want to get off the plane. I’m antsy and need to get out. It takes another fifteen minutes for the plane to be attached to the building and for the people in the rows in front of me to gather their bags and move off the plane.
Despite my trepidation about flying, the experience is always exciting and the destination always makes the pain of getting there worth while. So whatever you’re reason for flying, whether it’s to see family or a new country, I highly suggest it!