Hit The Road
Talking helps ease anxiety of traveling
Last week, I was on a plane that was 11th in line for takeoff, which meant that we were sitting on the runway for 45 minutes. Babies were crying, sick people were coughing and it got uncomfortably warm.
I had gotten stuck in a window seat next to two women who needed extra straps for their seat belts and made it clear it would be a hassle for them to get up if I needed to use the restroom.
When the third announcement came on over the loudspeaker that we would have to sit for, "Oh, another 20 minutes or so," I started to panic. All the blood drained from my head. I felt like I might have to run to the front of the plane and ask them to turn it around, to let me back into the breathable space of the Chicago airport.
Within the past few years I've noticed that if I'm sitting in a middle or window seat in a full plane that gets stuck on the tarmac for more than half an hour, intense anxiety creeps up on me. I'm not afraid of flying; in fact, I've always loved it. It's more like claustrophobia, which is particularly bad when the plane isn't moving, which makes me think it's a combination of claustrophobia mixed with the Type A in me that always feels the need to be going somewhere, making progress.
I GENERALLY call the airline to get an aisle seat immediately after buying my tickets. Trouble arises when I get bumped from a flight or if I change the dates of my tickets. That was the case on the Chicago flight.
I've found that, like other things that scare me, my problem with full planes is all in my mind and easily cured if the person or people sitting next to me are willing to talk. On the second leg of my flight home, I sat between a woman named Rebecca and a man named Jake, both of whom were friendly. Rebecca and I talked about books, graduate school and computers. Jake talked to us about his dogs and cats, which he rescued from shelters. We talked for so long that it was a pleasant surprise when the plane touched down two hours later and it felt like we'd just taken off.
One of my best friends is a quadriplegic, and when he travels alone he asks the person sitting next to him to hold his shoulder back when the plane lands, so that he doesn't fall forward. He says that before he asks, people generally don't respond to his attempts to make conversation, but once they make that physical contact, they open up and usually don't stop talking. This makes me think that perhaps it's a fear of being too physically close to someone I don't know that scares me most. Maybe we're all just a little too scared of each other until we come into focus as people, not just lumps of flesh taking up too much room on a plane.
Nervousness while traveling is totally normal and actually good; it shows that we're excited about what we're doing. It illustrates that you're taking a risk! And, no matter what, the people around you are probably feeling the same way. They're human too.
Joy Uyeno travels frequently throughout the year, and her column geared toward beginning travelers or youths experiencing their first extended stay abroad appears the second Sunday each month in the Star-Bulletin Travel section.