Adventures in Flying for the #FearofFlying

Did you know 25% of people are nervous flyers?

For some reason I thought it’d be much higher. So I am part of the one in four and over time I’ve learned to manage, not so much conquer, my fear of flying.

I make a point to fly at least twice a year. That’s my rule. Last week I completed the second self-assigned plane trip. Yay, me. Unfortunately it was plagued with problems from beginning to end. But I’ve learned something important during the mayhem, and that is, I can do it – have trust in a complete stranger.

The purpose of the trip was to combine a vacation and help our son move to Boulder, Colorado to attend CU. I booked the perfect flight. A non-stop from Houston to Denver that would leave at 1:30pm and land at 3:00pm, so including time change, we’d be able to check-in and see some sights.

On the morning of the flight, around 8:00am, and we got an email informing us our flight has been cancelled. That’s it. Good luck. And because we booked his flight with points and my flight with a credit card, we were treated as two separate transactions. Long story short, we were rebooked on two separate flights. Not only that, my husband’s flight was direct, but mine had a layover in Albuquerque. No offense, but I didn’t want to go to Albuquerque. We tried to switch the reservations over the phone with customer service, but they were useless.

Here’s my advice for this situation: go to the airport, forget about customer service on the phone. The reps in the airports know what flights are coming in and out. So that’s what we did. Standing in the long line, we meet others who were also supposed to be on our Denver flight. Great news! We were all placed on a direct flight to Denver at 3:30pm. Fabulous. And here’s another piece of advice: whenever your flight is delayed, it’s the universe telling you to go to the bar. Trust me, life is good by the time you step on that plane.

And the flight was perfect. Uneventful and smooth, just like we fear of flyers hope and wish for. I even watched a movie with my husband, and I never do that. It was the best flight of my entire life and we were almost there. My heart skipped a beat and my ears popped as we descended over the green mountains and shimmery lakes. But then I noticed something. Didn’t I just see that shimmery lake? Oh, shit! We were circling. Just as I was about to the push the “help” button for the flight attendant, the Captain came over the speakers.

“Hello ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking, it seems there’s a long line to get into Denver’s airport due to morning storms, and unfortunately we’re running out of fuel. We are being rerouted to Albuquerque to fuel up and then we’ll return to Denver and give it another go. Thank you for your patience and choosing Southwest Airlines.”

OMG! Albuquerque? ALBUQUERQUE! You can’t make this shit up. And why can’t we skip to the front of the line in Denver? But it gets better, and by better, I mean worse. There’s a storm coming into Albuquerque. The pilot informs us that the flight attendants will have remain seated and unable to dispense vodka tonics.

As we descended in New Mexico’s air space, the plane pitched and dropped like we’re on marionette strings. But I was remaining calm, holding my husband’s hand, listening to my music. And by calm I mean not running up and down the aisle screaming. Usually I play a card game on my phone, but fuck that. We land safely – all thanks to my constant prayers.

As they fuel up the plane, I look out the tiny window and see black, ominous clouds (is there any other kind) move in, followed by lightning bolts. My husband and I are seated next to a 13 year-old kid who has just returned from a three-week Kenyan safari with his G-ma. He wants to get home more than anybody, but not with that monster storm coming our way. I assured him we will walk off the plane if they tried to taxi out. The captain makes another announcement.

“Hello everyone, this is your Captain speaking, it seems we won’t be going anywhere for a while. We’re going to let you deplane and get some food in the airport, but please bring your ID cards so we can check you in and out. Thanks again for your patience and for choosing Southwest Airlines.”

If airports were ranked by “Most Boring” Albuquerque would win first place. But we find grub, check on the kid, and hang around two other groups of people stuck in Albuquerque, also known as the color brown. The captain tells our gatekeeper to load us back up. Problem is, it’s still raining, day is turning to night, and I won’t be able to see what’s coming our way. I resist the urge to ask my husband to rent a car so we can drive to Denver, and like cattle, show my ID and get on the plane. The Captain is kind enough to tell me he woudn’t take off if there’s even the slightest risk. I momentarily felt better.

Seated and buckled, we are missing two people. One is the kid who showed up three minutes later, but no one knows who or where the other person is. Apparently it’s against FAA rules to leave someone behind once the flight has begun. So the flight attendants make everyone pull out their passports and ID’s to prove who they were. Fifteen minutes go by, and after all this, they still can’t figure out who’s missing. The groanings ensued. One sassy flight attendant grabbed her clicker counter and walked the aisle. She returned and made this announcement.

“We at Southwest Airlines would like to apologize for this inconvenience. We signed up for this, but realize you did not and have a choice when you fly. Thank you for choosing Southwest Airlines. We’ve figured it out and are ready for take-off.”

Translation: they miscounted. And while some of the passengers were firing off disgruntled tweets (something I did when my original flight was canceled) I knew it was an angel who caused the miscount. Thank you, angel. Don’t get me wrong, the flight got off to bumpy start, but it became smoother the closer we got to Denver. We landed safely at 11:30pm and this is what I learned:

Take-offs and landings can be bumpy. It doesn’t mean the Captain (or computer) doesn’t have complete control of the plane. Repeat this mantra: you are driving down a bumpy road. Will I fly again? Yes. (Next year-lol.) But I’ve learned it’s possible to have a bad flight without it being a bad flight.

Adventures in Flying for the #fearofflying
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