Family reunion brings opportunity to experience post 9-11 travel

Coping with fear of flying

Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2002

Leaving Kenai was the first step in surprising my mom for her 70th birthday, and I can't tell just how big of a step that was.

Let me tell you right up front that I don't like flying, but since Mom lives in Michigan, a quick drive home was out of the question. I had to get on an airplane.

Actually, I had to get on four airplanes.

By the time I left work that Thursday afternoon, I had pretty much convinced myself that I didn't want to go.

In fact, as my departure time drew closer, I was dead set against it. But my husband, Mark, reasoned me through my fear -- sort of -- enough to get me on the plane, anyway.

I knew I was in trouble when I started to cry when I said goodbye to the dogs. By the time I hugged Mark, I was a blubbering idiot. Lucky for me, I knew someone on the flight: my boss. Her constant conversation to distract me from each noise and slight motion worked great. I finally stopped crying -- when the wheels kissed the ground.

One down three to go.

It was merely a three-hour wait until the next adventure. I was so tired in waiting for the midnight flight to Salt Lake City that I was asleep before we even took off.

Two down.

Luckily, the flight attendant announced there would be no food on the connecting four-hour flight to Cincinnati. What's up with that? Not that I'm complaining about the lack of nutritious, gourmet airline food, but no mystery meat? That was part of my plan to keep me distracted on the flight!

Luckily, I had a backup.

Unfortunately, so did my seat mate. She felt it crucial and therapeutic to tell me her entire life story. Even attempts to feign sleep did not deter her conversation. Whoever thought I would be so glad to see Cincinnati?

One more flight and I would be home, safe. I actually was starting to get giddy.

When the wheels touched down at Kalamazoo "International" Airport -- would that be gate A or gate B? -- I longed for the moment I would connect with my sister Denise, whom I hadn't seen in eight years.

The events of Sept. 11 slightly dampened the arrival, as it was a short hike to finally reach an area where we could meet face to face. But it was worth it. Hugs and laughter soon followed. Now all we had to do was wait for my sister Deb to arrive from Billings.

Mom was going to love this surprise.

After a brief visit with Denise, Deb's plane arrived and we waited with baited breath for the three-sister reunion.

Standing on the outside of the revolving door waiting to see her face seemed like an eternity. However, had we known what was about to happen, I suspect we would have waited in the car -- or even another airport.

In her attempt to be, let's call it "funny," Deb came into view on the other side of the door and began her "parade wave." Stepping into the revolving door, she thought it would be "funny" to go around again.

Problem was, security being what it is these days, no one was allowed to re-enter once they passed the exit threshold.

What this means in layman's terms is BUZZERS; LOUD, LOUD BUZZERS and FLASHING LIGHTS. The door locked up, alarms went off and after conking herself in the head on the abrupt halting of the door, Deb ran toward us laughing hysterically, despite the horrified look of panic on her face.

The laughter triggered another reaction, which sent her past us and into the bathroom.

Although most people realized the connection between us, Denise's quick thinking created a temporary diversion when she waved at the people trapped on the other side of the door and said, "There they are!"

Unfortunately, neither the trapped passengers, nor their impatient family members fell for it, so her next move was to announce, "She's in the bathroom."

We all stood there doing nothing, but after a while the alarms eventually stopped and the door eventually moved. Families were reunited, and life went on.

But the really scary part is, while all of this was happening, not one single security person came to see what the commotion was all about! It's good to see such measures being taken, I just want to know why? At least the information lady got a good laugh out of it.

The rest of the week was calm compared to that. Mom was totally surprised, and we had a great visit.

As the days wound down, I knew I'd have to get back on those planes, but for some reason I wasn't as nervous. I even opted to forgo the Valium and other remedies I had brought with me.

Halfway into my flight back to Salt Lake, I was thinking what an idiot I was.

The plane hit some "turbulence," which I think is French for "the pilot has no control of the plane's up and down movement whatsoever." It is very disturbing to see an entire plane full of people coming up out of their seats at the same time.

The gentleman next to me, who used beer as his remedy, obviously could see I was in distress, so he tried to console me.

"Isn't this fun? These baby's can really take a pounding, you know."

Had I been able to remove my embedded fingernails from the arm rest, I would have wrapped my seat belt around his throat and beat him with my flotation device.

When we reached the ground in one piece, I rushed the cockpit -- to thank them.

The long flight back to Alaska was miserable. My CD player stopped working, and my eyes were so stressed I couldn't focus on my book or hand-held video game. But I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to another woman who delighted in telling me her life story.

Again, feigning sleep did nothing. I tried hanging over the seat into the aisle, but all that did was give me bruises from the drink cart.

On the bright side, we did finally get a meal. And whatever that was they served, it helped keep my mind occupied all the way back to Anchorage. Thank you, Delta.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the features editor for the Peninsula Clarion.

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