My flight to France was absolute torment. I really must give up flying or figure out how to procure drugs strong enough to knock me out so as to prevent me from experiencing the intense anxiety associated with my air travel. I feel like I am turning into my father and within the next few years I will be unable to muster the courage to board a plane.
I boarded the flight at Heathrow on time. At the gate the ticketing agent told me that British Airways had to change me seat due to "operational reasons". I asked what kind of reasons were operational? She informed me that it probably meant the seat was broken.
Given that I fly a lot I know the real answer was more likely to be that they had oversold the business class tickets and had to move the boundary back into the economy class part of the plane. I was horrified when I learned I was at the back of the plane; not just further back, but in the very LAST row, behind a group of 50 French school children returning from a trip abroad. I suppose I would have been even more incensed if I had purchased a business class ticket only to find that I was allocated an economy class seat.
Not to worry. I was letting this annoyance roll off my shoulders and let it go into the universe. I had more important things to focus on. Like catching up on my reading. About halfway into the 2 hour flight, the plane suddenly starting bumping and jumping about. Seat belt signs were lit. Drinks went flying off the trays and into the air. Lightning burst in the sky outside the aircraft window.
I bent over, hugged my knees as tears fell from the corners of my eyes and I began to hum "Tomorrow". You know the one from the musical Annie - The sun'll come out tomorrow. Betchour bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun......Just thinking about - OK you get the idea. I tried to remember if I had kissed and cuddle my husband as well as my children. I remembered that my will is probably out of date. I tried to remember what the precise value is of my life insurance policy.
Above the din of my screaching was an Italian or maybe Spanish or some sort of Latin language prayer being recited at high volume by a gorgeous young woman sitting across the aisle from me. She was repeatedly crossing herself.
I reached across the aisle, determined not to die alone and grabbed hold of her hand.
In the midst of all this chaos, the French school children didn't even blink an eye. They kept reading their Teen Magazines and playing with their Nintendo DS Lites and listening to their iPods.
I've had these experiences before but they tend to be short lived: 10 minutes out of 3 hour flight. But this time it lasted for nearly 40 minutes. The pilots announced at one point they were going to fly out of our scheduled flight path to get us out of harm's way. Oh good god, did I really need to know that I was in harm's way?
We landed 40 minutes late. I let go of the woman's hand only when I applauded the succesfull landing of the aircraft. I couldn't get off of there quickly enough (but keeping in mind I was in the very last row, it wasn't very quick).
I got my luggage and started what turned out to be an epic journey by public transport (bus) from the Nice airport to my hotel in Cannes. (That's another post!) But in my haste, I forgot to say goodbye and thank you to the stranger across the aisle who shared my fear, who held my hand, who hopefully prayed for me in a language I couldn't understand at break neck speed and who showed supreme compassion. I'm glad it was her sitting next to me and not those school children.
Tonight I board my return flight. The weather has improved considerably and I am hoping (and praying) for a much less eventful but ever so much more important journey home.