Flying Anxiety

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I have an unnatural (or perhaps natural?) fear of heights. I have since I was a child. Perhaps it was all the times my siblings would stick me atop the refrigerator, or they would terrorize me about ledges and cliffs as only older siblings do. I have written about it. Even faced my fears with walks over the Brooklyn Bridge and going a top the Empire State Building.

Flying use to scare me, until I did it enough times it became second nature. Which is why on my flight back to New York this past week, I could empathize with my seat mate.

You would think flying during the Winter months along the New England coast would be the worst time to travel, but it is actually Spring and Fall, where I have always experienced the most “I just lost ten years of my life and thank God for seat belt” flights.

Bumpiness and jarring galore, I have become immune to it for the most part. Yes there was that time a couple years ago, I grabbed a movie producer’s arm out of reflex as we were tossed like a salad. Bright side I ended up going out on a couple dates with him. Flying back from California I was woken up unpleasantly as we tried to avoid Snow Storm Stella. And then my flight from Montreal to Boston a few years back which still causes me nightmares. Yes I have had my fair share of turbulent flights.

On Monday being the anti-social New Yorker I am, I smiled and turned back to my book as we took our seats, buckling up and preparing to taxi. As we took off, I noticed my seat-mate put her head in her hands, and her legs were shaking uncontrollably.

At first I was unsure what to do. She was most definitely in distress and I was torn. Do I stay oblivious or do I channel my empathy and see if I can help. Making eye contact my decision was made for me as she began to profusely apologize explaining “Sorry, I promise I am not sick, I just really really hate this. I just wish we would straighten out.” I very quickly told her it was okay and their was no need to apologize.

Because it WAS. We all have fears, and they are nothing to apologize for, especially to strangers.


As it began to get worse, and the seat belt sign kept dinging like a petulant child reminding us all they want candy, she asked if it was normal. I told her it was and that my flight to Maine had been equally bumpy that Wednesday. At that point we reached some particularly angry air and she grabbed my knee as tears began streaming down her face and my own heart was breaking witnessing her fear.

And still she kept apologizing.

I took out my ear buds giving her my undivided attention as I began talking to her rubbing her back and hoping to distract her even with mundane chatter. She told me about her career as a winemaker which was absolutely fascinating. She then explained to me how she actually flew a lot (spending half her time in France) but that the planes were bigger cushioning passengers from the turbulence and she could take the red-eye knocking herself out. The flight from Maine to JFK is such a short flight that to take anything, would hinder the rest of her day, which I understood.

Whole some people dislike the confined space of airplanes, or being so high, her fear wasn’t with flying itself, but with the turbulence. And with that, it is all in Mother Natures hands.

During that forty-five minute flight, I met a woman who showed remarkable courage in facing a fear. What was utter hell for her, she still faced them, some might think unsuccessfully, but instead of avoiding it by taking a car or a train, she tackled them head on. She even attempted joking through her anxiety about how she had aged ten years. I admired her tenacity, her strength and the fact that she showed us all that fear just makes us stronger. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. Just by facing it head on, you become stronger.

As humans we ALL go through unpleasantness. We all have to face our fears at some point, because the fact is we ALL have them. Sometimes they are on full display for strangers and friends alike to see. It is what at our core makes us human and differentiates us from other animals. It is what breeds connection if we let it. We all need that connection. As easy as it is to stay home and become a hermit with the accessibility of internet, it is more important now that we keep those doors of communication of humanity open.

Living in the city it is so easy to walk around with ear-buds in, being deliberately oblivious to what is going on. To be caught up in the anti-social busyness of our lives that we become detached from people. Even more so when emotions get high or make us uncomfortable.

It is those moments where we need to open our hearts more. Be there for people and even strangers. The beauty isn’t just in the breaking, but it is also in the trust. Trusting someone when our hearts are at their most vulnerable. It is such an incredibly beautiful yet humbling experience. To witness someone struggling, yet still facing fear head on and offer in turn comfort and empathy, is human connection at its core.  Stranger or friend, we are human and our empathy is the biggest gift we can give. It is what connects us all.

What are your thoughts? Do you face your fears head on? As always I love to hear from you guys. <3

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18 thoughts on “Flying Anxiety

  1. This is such a great post! That woman was definitely sat next to you for a reason. I think we need more people like you in the world. To look over and be able to tell someone that it’s okay instead of judging them xx.

    1. Awe thank you so much for your sweet words. They mean a lot and just made my day! People are definitely thrown into our lives for a reason. Thank you for reading AND your sweet comment <3

    1. Awe thank you! I might be optimistic but I like to think others would too. 😀 And thanks I will definitely check that out. My Uncle is a pilot and I have not only discussed with him flying but also flown with him a few times. It definitely helps when you have someone who knows what they are talking about 🙂 <3 Thanks for reading! 🙂 <3

  2. Good on you! And good on your seatmate! She got through it, and im sure your presence and empathy really helped her a lot during and after the flight 😄

  3. This just confirms how sweet of a soul you have Kate. I’m so glad that she got placed next to you, especially through your experience with flying and your once fear of it as well. As much as I love flying, turbulence will forever be terrifying. Is it really more unsafe to fly in the spring, summer? Also loved that story about the movie producer, I feel like that’s something that would happen in the movie! haha

    xo, JJ

    1. Awe thank you sweetie! This comment just made my day. It is, especially if it is bad. It isn’t unsafe, it is just bumpier (I forget the scientific reasons but has to do with the way the jet stream moves) Haha I have met a few people while traveling. Another time I met a guy (who was a little young for me in college still) because we had to wait two hours because some person flushed a diaper and backed up the plumbing so we couldn’t take off…(Mind you the flight is only forty-five minute airtime) he and I bonded over that LOL.
      I think it is one of the reasons I love traveling so much. the people I get to meet:) <3

  4. Ohhh my goodness- this is INCREDIBLE! I love love love this. Everything about it. I admire you for not ignoring this stranger, which is what the vast majority would do, and using this experience as a reminder that we are always in a position to make a difference in someone’s world in small ways. I also love that sometimes facing our fear isn’t about being graceful through facing our fears, but just facing them. That’s the first step and we will get through. That’s how I feel about this new job. When I don’t feel like I have what it takes to face another shift I just have to go. And moment by moment I make it through. This was just such a timely reminder for me. Thank you so much for posting this, Kate <3

    1. Awe thank you so much for your sweet words. It is funny because I am not an extrovert by any means (unless I know you then you will wish I shut-up… ;p ) but I can never not ignore anyone. I have to at least acknowledge them. I love what you said about not always facing our fears gracefully. It is sooo true! We don’t always have to be perfect (this coming from a perfectionist lol) or do things perfectly especially when it comes to facing fear. Huge hugs. You are going to kick booty at this job! It may not seem it at times, but you will! You are doing something that so few people are able to do, and I am so proud of you! I am glad. Here for you always beauty! <3

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