Flying is not even close to the top of a list of Thing I Like To Do. Flying wasn’t something I or my family did when I was growing up. We drove everywhere. We drove to western Pennsylvania to see my mother’s family. We drove to The Shore — Wildwood, New Jersey to be more precise — to visit my father’s brother’s family. We even drove to Florida a few times to see my paternal grandparents. It was the 70s, and like many American families we drove. There is only one time that I can recall my father flying, and it wasn’t commercially. An old navy buddy of his flew his Cessna from New Jersey to a small airport near our house in Maryland, and took us both on a little excursion. As I remember this story, I honestly can’t recall any other times my father flew.
On the occasions I did get to fly I recall being excited. On rare occasions my mother and I would fly from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, PA when my father couldn’t go with us; and one of her brothers would pick us up and drive us the rest of the way. There was at least one flight I took alone to visit my paternal grandparents in Florida. I recall enjoying the flights to and from Germany when I was 13 when a school friend named Dirk and I traveled alone to visit his oma in Cologne. I even flew first class one time when my cousin gave me a voucher and I was able to upgrade on a flight from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles.
It wasn’t often, but it also certainly wasn’t something to which I gave much thought. It was novel when I was a kid. Then it stopped being novel, and I can pinpoint when that changed. Not the year, just The Flight that scarred me.
Oddly enough the details before and after the flight are sketchy at best. I know I was flying from Washington, DC to Youngstown, Ohio. I think I wanted to go to Pennsylvania to spend Christmas with my mother’s family. My cousins and I spent nearly every holiday together, and for some reason my parent’s plans didn’t include a visit this Christmas.
I recall having to change planes in Pittsburgh where we downsized to a small turboprop aircraft for the less than 60 mile flight to Youngstown. An airport with only two terminals, it was only a 20 minute drive from my Uncle Dom and Aunt Mary’s place compared to an hour drive each way to Pittsburgh. From what I understand the airport has been without commercial flights for a number of years now, and I think it is exclusively used by the National Guard.
As I said, the plane was small, but I recall it being a full flight, and that full meant about 20-30 people. There were no aisle seats, or maybe they were all aisle seats depending on your view. There were seats on each side of the aisle, and yet there was a flight attendant serving drinks. Or at least an attempt was made.
The flight was short. It couldn’t have taken 30 minutes tops, and as soon as we were in the air the attendant rolled her drinks cart down the aisle. I got a cola of some sort. I don’t remember what type of soda, but I do know it was brown. No sooner had the flight attendant placed the filled glass of soda on my tray when the plane suddenly shook and my glass of brown soda appeared to fly about 2 feet into the air. A fraction of a second later the glass slammed into the tray and the soda went everywhere. People screamed and the attendant’s eyes went wide as her eyes met mine. She quickly rolled her cart a few more feet to the back of the plane, sat in her seat and buckled her belt. The plane shook a bit more, and then seemed to settle.
Moments later we were making our landing. The ride down was bumpy again, and when we hit the tarmac it was roughly and the plane slid sideways before coming to a stop. I had been gripping the arms of my chair, my heart was racing, but I was glad to be on the ground.
I have flown many times since that incident, but never peacefully, and usually reluctantly. I prefer to drive or take the train when time allows, and suck it up and take anti-anxiety meds when a flight is the only option. Flying is hard for me, but I really like traveling. And thankfully, most of my flights since have been uneventful. But an uneventful flight doesn’t mean an uneventful experience for an anxious passenger. But that’s another story.