Hello Aviophobia, My Old Friend

If you’ve read my about page, you’re already familiar with my struggles with anxiety. Unfortunately, while traveling is my favorite thing in this life, flying is not a fun experience for me. Some flights are worse than others, sometimes I’m exhausted and tipsy enough to make a flight just bearable enough. On rare occasions, I’ve even cried a little after landing.

So, what do you do when your desire to see the world is just as strong as your desire to not hurtle through space in a metal tube while having embarrassing crying fits in front of strangers?

I had an experience recently that changed the way I choose and prepare for my flights. While planning a trip to Patagonia with my friend and our moms, I developed severe tunnel vision for planning everything out on the lowest budget possible. I knew we would be spending more money on beer food and activities than we normally do, so I was looking to trim the fat on our transportation and housing anywhere I could.

Enter Santiago based Sky Airline. For around $200 per person, we could fly from Santiago to Puerto Natales, our gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. This was 50% less expensive than any other ticket or route we’d seen; done deal, let’s go!

Let me now regale you with the transcript of my inner monologue from that flight several weeks later:

“Oh god, was it really a good idea to fly on a low cost airline that I’ve never heard of? What if their pilots are hired based on nepotism rather than skill? What if their pilots are brand new and this airline is a jumping off point for their career…oh god, what if this is their first flight?! What if they have a known track record for incidents; oh god, why didn’t I think to Google them before booking; before getting on this flight even??”

“HOLY CRAP THAT MOUNTAIN IS REALLY CLOSE…I HOPE THE PILOT PLANS ON TURNING SOON!”

“Okay, okay, just breathe, it’s fine, we’re almost there, that turbulence is normal, close your eyes and breath, just let go and relax.”

“OH GOD, THIS IS IT! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”

Was this trip, this specific destination, really worth it? Worth potentially plunging to a fiery death? Worth never seeing my friends and loved ones again?

“I’ve made a terrible mistake. What was I thinking? If I make it out of this alive, I swear I’ll nevvvvvver go anywhere again! I’ll stay in, on the ground, where it’s safe, I’ll take up a safe hobby…I’ll knit socks for fun, and hand them out to my friends and coworkers! Yes, that’s it, I’ll knit and never fly again, just get me to the ground safely this one last time and I’ll stay there forever!”

“SHIT. I’ll still have to fly home though.”

“I wonder how stringent the immigration laws are in Chile…”

Yuuuuuup, that’s what flying is like for me. Basically every time.

Days later, after my panic had long subsided, our kayaking guide brought me back to crazytown by expressing interest in our flight because, as it turned out…THE AIRPORT WAS BRAND FUCKING NEW AND THEY HAD ONLY BEEN FLYING INTO IT FOR TWOOOOOO WEEKS. For those of you non-worries out there who may be missing the point of why this is scary, let’s just say that it lends well to a snowballing anxiety that the people tasked with getting you to the ground safely are inexperienced and, while otherwise great pilots, might miss some miniscule detail which swiftly leads you to your death. Well yes, no one ever claimed that anxiety was a rational condition.

As you can imagine, the flight back out was even more nerve racking than the flight in, due to this new information. And also, it was raining…eeeeek!

The moral of this story is not that low cost airlines are the worst, that new flight routes are terrifying and to be avoided at all costs, or even that new pilots are unskilled and trying to kill you (as a flight attendant once told my similarly aviophobic mom, “ma’am, the pilot wants to get home, too”). Rather, the idea is that doing a little research before selecting your next flight can go a long way toward assuaging at least some of the anxiety of flying.

Looking at flights for an upcoming trip to Morocco, I kept seeing flights on something called TAP Portugal. As a seemingly low cost and unknown brand, memories of Sky Airlines quickly flooded back to me, so I took to Google to find out what TAP was all about.

It turns out that TAP is the national airline of Portugal (sorry, Portugal, for referring to it as an “unknown” airline) and is partially owned by the Portuguese government and partially by a corporate group that is led in part by the founder of JetBlue. JetBlue is one of my favorite airlines (funny to have a favorite of something you hate, right?) so, I’m not gonna lie, just by association, it made me feel a little better.

According to Wikipedia, TAP was rated as the safest airline in Western Europe and, worldwide, they tied for fourth place with such big brand names as Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Finnair. They’ve also only had one fatal crash, way back in 1977 (things are inherently less scary when they happened before you were even born), due to poor weather conditions. As an added bonus, after a little digging I found that they have been flying the route I’ll be flying, between Lisbon and Marrakech, since 2010.

With that bit of knowledge, when I’m sitting on that flight to Marrakech in a few weeks, at least I won’t be worrying about the same unknowns as I was on Sky Airlines (which by the way, if I haven’t been clear, was an absolutely fine experience when all was said and done and I’d absolutely fly on them again).

Will I come up with other things to obsess over on my next flight? Well OF COURSE I will. But, at least I’ll know that if I die in a horrible plane crash, I’ll have done my due diligence and my last thought on this Earth won’t be, “Why didn’t I Google this???”

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