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Bad case of the airplane jitters

 Posted: 2:00 AM June 24, 2013

My son, Silas, and I flew up to Portland last week. Usually, when we go to Portland we just drive, but because I was going up for a workshop for my job, and I had managed to stumble upon some fairly affordable tickets, we decided to make an adventure of it and fly this time.

There are undeniable advantages to flying over driving. The most obvious one is that, having turned control over to the pilot, there's no one complaining that I'm a terrible driver. No voice from the passenger's seat saying that I'm going too fast, too slow, or why haven't I passed that big, giant, scary semi yet?

Other advantages are getting served cranberry juice while I read a magazine and, of course, the convenience of arriving in Portland after just an hour of traveling rather than five (which sometimes is actually an eight-hour drive if people can't manage to synchronize their bladders).

Of course, anyone who's flown in the past 10 years is well aware of the disadvantages of flying: waiting in long lines to be scanned, searched and X-rayed; limits on what you can pack in your luggage; and the necessity of wearing slip-on shoes. On my way to Portland, I was glared at by the security agents when I mistakenly claimed I was not traveling with any liquids. I promise I was not trying to smuggle aboard my makeup and sunscreen! I just forgot about them!

More horrifying was the return trip where I not only forgot to remove my shoes, but once caught Silas putting his fingers into the shape of a gun and furtively pulling it in and out of the inside of his jacket. "Silas!" I shouted. "You can't do that! You can't even joke about it! Especially in an airport, particularly while we're in line to go through security!" I imagined that at that very moment our names were being added to the list of people who would be pulled aside and strip-searched that day.

I think security at airports would be more manageable if they just required everyone to strip down naked from the very beginning. Sure, it would be a little awkward, but I think it would be like taking a shower at the gym — at first you're embarrassed and self conscious, but then you quickly realize that everyone has different bodies and their own particular hang-ups, and you just get over it.

But the worst part of flying, for me, is the actual flying part. As soon as I sat down in the seat I could feel sweat pouring down my back and face. I quickly got to work looking for the nearest emergency exit and searching the seat pocket in front of me for a vomit bag. I have never thrown up in an airplane, but I know it's only a matter of time.

Silas was seated across the aisle from me, safely outside my panic zone, having an animated conversation about Super Mario Bros. with his seatmate and taking pictures out the window. In the meantime, I turned to my own seatmate, attempted a smile (which probably more closely resembled a chimpanzee baring their teeth), wiped the dripping sweat out of my eyes, and said, "Stuffy in here isn't it?" "Uh, not really" the woman said, as she backed away from me as far as our tiny seats would allow her to.

I spent the entire flight trying to look straight ahead, every accidental glance out the window would send me into a round of heavy breathing into a paper bag. As we approached the landing strip, I would reach out to my perfectly sane, calm child and beg him to hold my hand as we landed.

So the next time you're sitting on an airplane, silently cursing the fact that you're sitting next to a small child, just remember, it could be worse; you could be sitting next to his mother.

Zoe Abel is safely back on the ground. You can contact her at

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