The Trouble with Flying

By: Rachel Morgan


“I need a distraction,” he says, his eyes pleading with mine. “From the flying thing. I know it’s irrational. Completely irrational. I mean, I’m a scientist. I trust science. And flying an aeroplane is based on science. But being in one … in the sky …” He shakes his head. “I know it’s a stupid fear. I know I’m more likely to die in a car accident. But no matter how many times I try to convince myself that flying is perfectly safe these days, my stupid brain keeps reminding me that every now and then things do go wrong. And people do die. And that this could very well be my moment. To die.”

Sheesh. I thought my brain was messed up for being unable to form intelligible sentences in front of strangers, but at least my brain doesn’t keep telling me I’m going to die.

The silence stretches out between us like soft toffee. “I’m sorry,” he says eventually. “Did I scare you? Are you also afraid of flying?”

I shake my head. Don’t. Freak. Out. Just talk! “No, I’m fine. Flying’s not too bad. Really. The worst part is taking off. Or maybe landing. But everything in between is fine. I promise.”

Yes! I spoke more than ten words without stumbling over any of them, and this time I may have actually helped this guy instead of freaking him out further.

“Whoa, okay, we’re speeding up.” His hands stop their tapping and squeeze the armrests.

Right, so maybe I didn’t help that much.

“So I’m expecting my ears to start hurting when we take off,” he continues, “because of the changing pressure. My sister told me to chew gum, and I know I definitely packed some, but of course I left it in my bag up there, so I guess it’s too late for that.” He forces his head back against the headrest and closes his eyes. “You idiot, just shut up.”

I can’t help smiling. I think he’s forgotten he’s talking out loud. “Where are you going?” I ask, raising my voice as the rumbling beneath us grows louder. “I mean, on the other side of Dubai. Obviously we’re all going there first, or we wouldn’t be on this plane.”

He opens his eyes and twists his head to look at me. “What makes you think I’m not staying in Dubai? Maybe I have a wife and two children there.”

My ears start to heat up. You see? I tell myself. This is why you should keep quiet.

“I’m kidding,” he says. “South Africa. Half my family lives there, which is why I’m being forced to cross continents for this reunion   thing.” His eyes slide past me to the window as the vibration beneath our feet increases and our seats start to rattle. “And as much as I appreciate you trying to distract me, I’m fully aware of the fact that we are going way, way too fast right now and—oh bloody heck we’re in the air!” The plane tilts back as the wheels leave the ground and we begin our ascent. First-Time-Flying Guy presses his head back against the seat once more and squeezes his eyes shut. “Please don’t explode, please don’t explode, please don’t explode.”

“It’s not going to explode!” I say.

Pain begins to build inside my ears along with the stuffed-with-cotton-wool feeling. I open my mouth and move my jaw around, causing my ears to pop. No chewing gum for me. I’ve never liked the texture. Makes me feel like I’m eating a super squishy toy.

“Oh dear God, I can see the lights. They’re getting smaller.” His eyes are glued to my window, despite the fact that he said he didn’t want to know how high we’d be going. “Is it supposed to rattle this much? And bugger, my ears are hurting.”

“Make yourself yawn,” I tell him.

“What? I can’t make myself yawn.”

“Yes you can. Or move your jaw around. With your mouth open.”

Frowning, he obeys my instruction. Then he winds up yawning for real. And then his eyes slide back to the window, and the panicked expression is on his face once more.

I twist in my seat so I’m facing him and try to cover the window with my back. “South Africa,” I say loudly. “I’m going there too. That’s where I’m from. I was in England on holiday. Visiting my older sister. She moved there two years ago. She’s awesome. Really fun. She makes me laugh all the time.”

Oh my goodness, can you pick something just a little less random to talk about? And maybe try sounding less like a robot reciting facts?

“That’s … cool,” First-Time-Flying Guy says.

“And … um … so, I’m really looking forward to feeling the sun on my skin again. I’ve been wrapped up like a burrito for way too long. I mean, how do you guys survive the entirety of winter? Three weeks was enough for me. I don’t know how I’d survive any more of this rain and wind and paralyzing iciness.”

Wow. Are you really talking about the weather?

He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as the plane starts to feel more horizontal. No more rattling. Just flying. Smooth flying. He peers over my shoulder once more, then leans back in his seat. “Okay,” he says quietly, probably to himself. “We’re in the air. I can do this.”