This is embarrassing. Worse than embarrassing, it’s awkward, exasperating, worrisome, bewildering. It may not be mortifying, but it comes pretty close. I had a panic attack, or something like a panic attack. In public.
Here’s how it happened.
I was all set to go to Florida for a few days of fun in the sun, or whatever it is they do down there, so I bought my ticket, and some toiletries in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (per Transportation Security Administration rules), got up long before the crack of dawn and headed for what we used to call Bradley Field. So far, so good.
Never mind that I’ve always had trouble with flying. It starts with the skimpy seats that were designed by the airlines’ human engineering departments to wedge as many sardines as inhumanely possible (including size-2X sardines like Yrs Trly) into their flying tin cans.
To make matters worse, I can never sleep on a plane because I spend the whole trip thinking about how the engines (and all too often there are only two of them!) can routinely be spinning at over 10,000 rpm, which means the tips of the fan blades are moving at well over the speed of sound — that is, well over 768 mph, which is more than enough speed, I figure, that if a blade were to come loose it would slice through the fuselage (like a hot knife through butter) and then through my head, hard as it is, as well.
These are my thoughts whenever I fly, though they’ve never kept me on the ground. Until last week, that is.
I mean, I’ve flown nonstop from New York to Moscow and back, and I don’t recall that it was much of an ordeal. But that was a long time ago; maybe the seats were bigger in those days.
Then again, I flew to California in 2011 without much trouble, so it’s more likely that my claustrophobia and my all-purpose fear of flying have progressed. Not that I’d call it progress.
Anyway, I’m at Bradley last Tuesday as the dawn is breaking, and the plane is completely full, and everybody’s lugging enough baggage for a two-week vacation, and my seat is way back in the tail. I had requested an aisle seat, but of course with the cheap seats you don’t get to choose, so I’m blessed with seat 37-D, where I’m wedged in between two other large people, with maybe an inch of clearance between my knees and the seat in front of me.
That’s not even enough space to squirm, let alone to stretch, so I’m getting twitchier and twitchier by the minute.
Then the captain announces that there’s something wrong with the plane, so we may have to sit there until the cows come home while they figure things out.
And that’s when I panic. I’m not saying this was a medically diagnosed panic attack — those can be pretty severe, with heart palpitations and nausea and what-not — but it was more than enough for me.
I had to get off that plane. So I asked the big guy on the aisle to let me out, grabbed my bag from the overhead and scuse-me-scuse-me’d my way out of there.
Will I try flying again, ever? Maybe. Sometime. Perhaps. If there’s absolutely no alternative.
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.