Let me explane

This has been one of those weeks.  Geoffrey has a one-month restoration project that takes place at night in DT LA, so our whole household schedule is turned upside down here and that means none of us is really getting any sleep. That gives me a chance to binge watch my favorite series, so I am going through all my Mad Men seasons, In Treatment, The Good Wife, Homeland and Bill Maher.  I am also reading this fascinating book that my cousin — who visited from England this week — suggested and finishing up on my last sweater project until the autumn.


I am also on news-watch, awaiting the outcome of the Iran negotiations as we are on the verge of an historic agreement that will avert another unthinkable war in the ME. Another interesting storm brewing is that over whether or not we should ‘primary’ our progressive 2016 presidential candidate — why would anyone want to be used to supposedly polish another candidate’s positions? From what I can see, Clinton is fairly progressive on all major issues and so I don’t need to waste my time listening to let’s say, Bernie Sanders (who I love!) when I know she will do what she can as best she can given the tight constraints of the Presidency.  By the way, I will miss Harry Reid.  He is my antithesis except in one regard: he is a relentless progressive looking out for the average American and for that I am grateful to him.


But, as everyone knows, our news has been dominated by the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525. I should have included all the airplane photos I have taken over the past few years but when I looked at them, they seemed rather ordinary and so I am just posting some more pictures taken in our garden this month, instead.

Ah, where do I begin on this subject.  As those of you who know me will remember, I am a nervous flyer. It began out of the blue on a flight back from Italy on a 747 decades ago and I had just about conquered it with reason and statistics when 9/11 came along and set me back.

Canon 030

So, here I am, having flown hundreds of times and every one of them a nailbiter during takeoff.  Ironically, most of the accidents that have happened in the recent past have occurred during landings, but for some reason, those don’t bother me.  It is clearly an irrational phobia that I have had a hard time tracing to any particular incident.

Or is it?


Before I get to that.  I have had some scary experiences on planes — not that first time I realized I was fearful of flying, that was a perfect flight.  But before and after. I remember taking off from the airport near Cornell in an ice storm — we literally shimmied along the runway in a very small, old 727 before getting up into the air and over the storm. Another time, while I was in school and traveling to Miami with my dad, there was an erratic takeoff and a hard, bumpy landing with us bouncing up in the air a few times before coming to a stop.  It was terrifying, and as we deplaned, we could see the pilot, clearly inebriated, arguing with some of the passengers.

Yet another time, my family was on a short hop from Florida to St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. We were on a Prinair prop jet that seated about two dozen people on, wait for it, folding chairs.  I am not exaggerating.  If you know the airport in St. Thomas, it is on a flat valley surrounded by mountains.  When planes land, they have to literally dive down steeply to get past the mountains and hit the runway (a  very short one) at just the right moment in order to have enough stopping distance.  When this occurred, the chairs we were only perched on slid forward toward the cockpit.

Another incident occurred while we were traveling to Rio from New York and about one hour into the flight on Varig, the 747 smacked into something, probably a bank of thick clouds and there was a huge thump and drop that almost made me faint.  It was at night, which is the worst time to encounter something like this. This flight was after my infamous Italy trauma so for 12 hours, I was in hell wondering if we would make it.


Finally, I was on a flight from NY to San Juan, Puerto Rico one time, reveling in a luxurious 1st class seat with a huge buffet at the front of our cabin on an American Airlines luxury liner (my fave at the time and pre-Italy flight) when the plane encountered a thunderstorm and started bouncing all over the place.  All the women in first class, presumably from Puerto Rico, started screaming ‘Ay, Mio Dios!’ or, ‘Mi Corazon!’.  You can imagine what an atmosphere that created.

Canon 026

So, to this day, I have had to grapple with my fears on take-off and any time there is turbulence.  I try to view this both as a behaviorist and an individual, trying to scour my past and my psyche to explain this at one time thought to be irrational trepidation.  I have flown at least twice a year on average, my entire life, so clearly being afraid to step on a plane is a problem and interferes with my peace of mind.  I don’t do it casually any more and that was one of the many reasons I didn’t go on the in-law’s trip to Hawaii last summer.


I can read all the statistics on modes of transportation and their relative track records, but it still comes down to an increasingly cost-driven, for-profit industry that is paying its pilots half of what they made in the 1950s, while demanding twice to three times the intellect.  Today’s crop of pilots, unlike those at the start of the aviation industry, have little experience flying under stressful conditions.  Most of the pilots of the 50s to 70s were war vets with nerves of steel and incomparable experience encountering novel situations in flight.

Add to this the fact that today most aircraft are computerized and take the control out of the hands of the pilot altogether.  On top of having young and unseasoned people in the cockpit (on 9525, early 30s, late 20s), they just cannot fly the plane manually the way older pilots can. Over and over again, there have been accidents caused when they become confused due to an an electronic glitch. I scratched Air France because of those malfunctioning and ridiculous pitot tubes.


So, I have a complex formula that I apply to choosing a flight.  Some of the parameters I consider are the maker of the plane, preferring Boeing to the rest, the engines — no Rolls Royces; the size of the plane, 757 and larger, only.  The track record of the airline, United and Delta and perhaps Southwest are my only carriers now. I used to like Swiss Air and Lufthansa but no more European carriers for me for all sorts of reasons, some of which I spoke about in earlier posts.

I sit over the wings, one row behind the doors.  I wear sturdy shoes and cotton socks, comfortable skinny pants and warm layered shirts and tops — no synthetics to melt into the skin in a fire. I carry a small smoke mask.  I take no substances at all for calming purposes — except SamE and Calc/Magnesium, and immediately don a sleep mask and ear buds to block the whole experience out. I carry my own light healthy snacks and water. I pack only a carry-on bag that I can put right in front of me, under the seat.

I make sure I am rested but I want to be upright and alert instantly so I can get out of that plane, climbing over the row in front of me and out onto the wing, if need be.  I wear my ID around my waist or put it in a pocket with my phone so there is no temptation to waste time grabbing anything. I never take any of their refreshments and I wipe down the tray and the seat back and arms with an alcohol towlette, to remove germs. Then I put my own towel behind my head.  Planes are petri dishes for many things, including MRSA.

What an ordeal.  Who needs it?

Canon 013

There are airports I avoid as being notoriously unsafe for differing reasons: JFK, La Guardia, Boston, Atlanta, SFO, and LAX.  When I am sitting waiting to board, I check out every passenger and the crew as well.  Believe me, I would walk away now if I saw anything that set off my alarm bells.


But let me say that what the authorities saw in the cell video snippet on 9525 is exactly why I think hard before flying.  It is not death that deters me.  It is the chaos and pandemonium, the terror that those poor people experienced for a full 8 minutes while that plane dove into the Alps.  That is what I want to avoid if I can.  Why put myself through that? For what? Luckily I have been on every continent except Antartica and Australia/New Zealand. I have traveled to every type of culture, and often.  I don’t need to see the world anymore.  I get it, appreciate it, and can leave it there.  In fact, those memories stay intact if I don’t return to see places ruined or perilous (like France, which I love).

Flying poses a certain type of dilemma: statistically it is unlikely that any of us will be involved in a fatal plane disaster.  However, if we were to be one of the unlucky who were 38,000 feet in the air when something goes terribly wrong, it is 100% certain that we won’t survive and will be traumatized horribly in the process.


That is what I reject and want to avert.  Yes, mechanically airplanes are safer and more sophisticated than ever. But all the statistics are based on a time when pilots were mature, trained, experienced and seasoned; when no terrorists could figure out ways to destroy planes at every stage; when you didn’t need to fear the baggage handlers or foolish young men thinking they are going to heaven by blowing themselves to smithereens; when airlines weren’t trying to make their CEOs and shareholders millionaires and billionaires but actually provided a pleasurable experience to the customer, whom they at one time valued and rewarded.  Today you sit in an 18″ square, hard seat, on a dirty aircraft barely cleaned or maintained between flights, built by lowest bidders and mechanics with little or no training and skill, paying dearly for cheap microwaved cafeteria food and for each bag you entrust them to send with you to your destination.


No thanks, folks.  I will travel by car or train first.  This latest incident is not unusual by comparison to what it would have been even fifteen years ago.  I am ex’ing plane travel for the forseeable future, probably including the family trip to Costa Rica this summer. Nope, I have enough stress living in a place with only twelve months of groundwater remaining and political gridlock. I don’t need to put my life in the hands of these people who value me so little.

Images: Beth Byrnes / more of the Valencia yard 





19 Comments on “Let me explane”

  1. Oh I am right here with you! Since getting fascinated with airplanes I am more paranoid than I was before, not less. The problem is those pesky HUMAN FACTORS like what happened to the Germanwings flight. It’s not the fact that statistically things rarely go wrong at all; it’s the fact that even the smallest of errors can down a plane and you’re right – everyone is toast if one link in the chain is weak.

    And speaking of MRSA, you are so right! My SIL won’t visit her father because of the MRSA risk but she travels constantly. Please!


    • That SIL might be using it as an excuse. When Geoff’s uncle was in the hospital with a heart valve problem, he picked up MRSA and we could visit him by first putting on a head to foot protective beekeeper suit.

      My reasoning is, that the last thing I need when I am heading out on vacation is a severe illness that came from the airport or the aircraft. Apparently, airports are absolutely the worst — everything on earth is on the surfaces there.

      Yup, that’s it. One tiny thing like a frozen pitot tube can take the whole thing down, and horribly, you sit there and can do nothing for however long it takes. Seriously, I cannot imagine why I would get on another plane, as inconvenient as that is.

      Now they are talking about having pilotless planes! Oh man, I am not sure what would be worse.


  2. Scary stuff but that is why I disconnected cable and satellite; I am now ignorant of what happens in the world except what I read her at WP and colleagues who share news…usually bad news. I recently finished Mad Men, have seen In Treatment and finished The Good Wife last Fall. Yep, nice binging…love any BBC detective series as well…I truly enjoyed your photos of your garden as well as the post before…wow!! Some day we will have sprouts and then blossoms here too:)


    • I’d be better off if I turned off all media, social included, sometimes, LOL. I switch it on to hear important news only to find non-stop coverage of some sensationalized story. I love BBC. Have you seen Il Commissario Montalbano? My cousin told me to find it and I think she watches it in London on the BBC. Sicilian detective stories — I found it on Amazon. Very entertaining and I practice my Italian that way too. Sprouts and blossoms — what a lovely prospect. Thank you!! :-))

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sure flying could be scary but really what can you do if it crashes not a hole hell of a lot. Like my father said when we moved to the house we live in now. Because it’s near the air port and I was freaked out on how low they fly over the house I said I’m paranoid what happens if a plain crashes and as he put it (Not much you can do about it is there?) guess what there really is nothing you can do. Though I do believe everything happens for a reason so if you do crash and die then I guess it means your time was up.


  4. I think about that sometimes, though I haven’t flown in decades. I would hope I would have the presence of mind to simply pray out loud.

    (BTW, ditto to Mad Men, In Treatment, The Good Wife. Haven’t tried Homeland yet. Might give that one a shot on your recommendation. 🙂 )

    Beautiful photos. I truly hope this weekend brings peace and calm to both of you.


    • Thank you Susan, for being the caring, understanding friend you are. I would definitely pray, if I found myself in that situation — the minute I sense danger, that is my first reaction (being the lifelong Catholic I was?), usually and I hope I too would have the presence of mind. It is hard to think about it but when I examine my irrational fear of flying, it comes down to wanting to avoid the terror of it. But, as Lana pointed out, that terror can come from anywhere, so we need to make each moment count.

      Homeland can be a bit violent but when things like that happen, I just speed through it. I try to guard myself from seeing too much violence — which might be a bit babyish of me, I am not sure, lol.

      Happy and Joyful Easter, Susan! ❤


  5. It’s been quite interesting reading this post Beth. I enjoyed the part on politics. You definitely read my post ‘Were I an American’. Honestly, I go with Lana on the issue of flying. I haven’t traveled very much – To only four countries in the world outside mine – France, Netherlands, USA and Canada; but I have never been afraid at any one moment. In fact, if I had the opportunity of being in the air every week I would dash for it. I think what will happen will happen. God is in control. True that accidents occur; but millions of people travel safely every week all over the world.Just believe that God is in control and not you; and if he decides that I come home while in the air, so be it.I urge anyone flying to pray about it and let God take over. No thought about what may happen. I know parents who have deprived their children of the joy of their visit because of the fear of flying. Let our faith play its role. Thanks for bringing up this topic for discussion. It will edify and strengthen many.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ngobesing, thank you so much for saying all this. I do believe my fear of flying falls into the category of irrational phobia. But if you have a phobia, you grapple with it in a variety of ways. My way is to counsel myself, pray — as you suggest in a way, and to be as prepared and careful as I can. Once I have done all the choosing and preparing, and when I absolutely must fly, I do.

      But, it would be nice if the airlines thought less about their profits and more about the flying public that trusts them and entrusts those children, let’s say, to their care. Allowing a pilot with so many problems to be in charge of the fates of 150 people seems irresponsible to me.

      God may be in control ultimately, but we can try our best not to get in His way!

      Your kind words and comfort are very welcome. 🙂


      • Thank you for your prompt response Beth. Yes. God actually helps those who help themselves. We need to do our part and then let God do His. Let our pilot schools take more time over training. Let there be more careful planning of flights. All the safety measures should be taken. I do understand your phobia. I do fear heights too but in a different way. When I am in a storey-building, I fear to stand out on the balcony. It would be as if the balcony would give way and I would find myself crashing down. Indeed we have our different phobias, I agree. There are some people who will not step their feet into a ship because of the fear of water. Again I thank you so much for this post which has ignited this discussion. I hope it reaches those who matter in this domain to become more aware of the various concerns of people. I wish you a great day!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m flying to Norway and Italy this year, I have problems with my ears and pressure, more so than fear of flying, you should go on a motorway in the UK 😳.
    There were two opera singers on the crash flight and Joseph Calleja said how much air travel he does as part of the job. The helplessness of the situation is horrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The helplessness is the only part that really bothers me. This could have happened virtually anywhere. I feel terrible that people knew it was happening for 8 minutes. The two opera singers were featured all over the news in the US. I thought you might have known of them.

      This was a freak incident. How exciting those two trips sound! I have often visited Italy but I have never been to Norway. What a wonderful opportunity, Charlotte.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I know you are busy! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the roses and how you shared your thoughts about flying, too. I feel it is safer than a car or maybe even a bicycle, so if I have a chance to fly, I will. I think my sister in law and brother were ‘smart’ not to fly together, not too long ago. Thinking about what effect it would have on their children to lose both parents at the same time. I feel this is prudent and showing caution.
    I wrote a bit about suicide and what the pilot must have been going through, but won’t dwell on the plane crash. I believe you saw my “Mountains” post and how I remarked that it is strange that 50 years after the Von Trapp Family Singers crossed the Alps, the exact year this man decides to spread 150 bodies among the Alp mountains. Sad, very sad.
    I liked how you mention you ‘binge’ on guilty pleasures of television when your hubby is away. I am single and revel in all sorts of ‘bad’ t.v. shows, such as “Revenge,” “Secrets and Lies” and “NCIS New Orleans,” gawking at the man who I used to adore from Quantum Leap television show. I liked the way the advertising this week, when Robert Wagner came back on “NCIS,” as Tony’s father. They said, “Heart to Heart.” Which Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers were on one of my favorite shows, “Hart to Hart.”
    I like to do this ‘bad habit,’ reading during commercials, too. Annoying, if I were still married! Smiles!
    I finished a good book called, “The House Girl” by Tara Conklin. It has chapters about the girl character, “Josephine,” and how she dreams of escaping by using the people in the Underground Railroad, while the current time has a woman named “Carolina” who is nicknamed “Lina,” who is working on the Reparation Act, to help compensate families who are descendants of slaves. Interesting how the ‘house girl’ was taught to paint, so there is another story of how her paintings become famous, while someone claims they did them erroneously.


    • I am going to look into that book, it sounds fascinating, Robin. Yeah, I watch a different type of show than my husband, although he will put up with some of them because I watch all his sports shows.

      As for flying, it is definitely statistically safer than a car. And I guess when you think about it, there might be a terrifying 8 minutes in a car crash where one is in pain. I think of poor Princess Diana.

      If they hadn’t dwelt so steadily on that crash last week, I probably wouldn’t have written about it. I have to fly occasionally and so I do, but I am very glad I got all my globe-trotting done when I was much younger.

      Thank you for stopping and leaving such a thorough comment. I had not realized the connection with the Von Trapps. I am going to reflect on that!


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