Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Michael Abrahams | Fear of flying

Published:Monday | April 24, 2017 | 4:05 AM

I have always loved to fly. My first trip abroad was when I was a child, probably about age seven or eight. I flew on an airline called Air Jamaica to Miami with my parents, and remember being excited about the journey and also being reprimanded for kicking the back of the seat of the passenger in front of me. I also remember the captain addressing the passengers on the flight, saying "Thank you for choosing Air Jamaica", only for a loudmouthed man at the rear of the aircraft to respond by shouting, "A nuh choice! A nuh choice! Me did waan fly Eastern, but dem neva have no seat!"

But not everyone likes to be airborne. Many people suffer from aviophobia, a morbid fear of flying, including celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, Whoopi Goldberg, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Ben Affleck, and, surprisingly, William Shatner, who played James Kirk, the captain of a ginormous spaceship, the Starship Enterprise, on the iconic television series Star Trek. Strange huh?

My mother was also nervous about flying, and I utilized my knowledge of that fact to entertain myself during overseas trips. Sometimes I would pretend to hear a strange noise under the aircraft, and feign concern, usually while over the Atlantic Ocean. I would then sit back, relax and enjoy watching my mother squirm, usually while consuming a can of Coke and a small bag of peanuts.

It is understandable why some people are afraid to fly. You are in a big metal machine high in the air, and if something goes wrong, gravity will be more than willing to lend a helping hand to bring it hurtling down to planet Earth. After 9/11, people have another reason to fear flying, as lunatics may attempt to crash or blow up aeroplanes. All someone has to do nowadays is say “Allah” or “Akbar” in mid-air, and people will release solids, liquids and gases in their underwear. Statistics show that the risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident is actually much greater than meeting your untimely demise while travelling in a man-made big bird, but this is of little consolation to aviophobes.

Nowadays, there is another reason to fear flying: violent confrontations. Recently, David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese American doctor travelling on United Airlines was literally assaulted by authorities. Dao was seated on an aircraft while on the ground at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when airline management offered compensation to passengers to vacate their seats to accommodate four staff members who needed to travel to Kentucky, the intended destination of the flight. No one accepted the offer, so four passengers were selected for “involuntary removal”. Three complied, but Dao did not, stating that he had to see patients the next day at his clinic. The airline staff did not give a rat’s ass about that, and summoned the Chicago Department of Aviation security officers. It turns out that a dental extraction would have been easier. By the end of the scuffle, Dao had suffered a broken nose, lost two front teeth, sustained sinus injuries and a concussion, and may require reconstructive surgery.

United Airlines’ motto is “Fly the Friendly Skies”. This incident happened on the ground, however, which is apparently not so friendly. So, once in the air, things should be great with United. Right? Wrong. On the same day of the abovementioned incident, a man on a United flight from Houston to Calgary was stung by a scorpion. Yes, a scorpion.

The creature fell from an overhead bin and landed on his hair as he was eating lunch. He felt something on his head, and as he grabbed it, it stung him, before falling on his dinner table, and then into the aisle, prompting another passenger to scream out, “Oh my God, that’s a scorpion.” Flight attendants subsequently managed to capture the arachnid and flush it down the toilet. Needless to say, I will not be flying on United Airlines anytime soon.

Being Jamaican, I have no fear of airport authorities or flight crew. It is my fellow Jamaicans I fear. We are a rather aggressive lot. Once, while boarding a flight from USA to Jamaica, I was looking for an overhead bin to place my carry-on luggage in, and realised that there was a serious space issue. The flight attendant began to point out that some of the luggage was positioned incorrectly in the bin. One of the pieces was jutting out, and while attempting to reposition it, to make room for my luggage, a small lady with an enormous mouth gave me a proper “tracing”. “Why yu a touch mi tings dem fa? A nuh fi yu. NUH TOUCH MI TINGS!!!” I apologised and tried to explain my mission, but was cut off with another skettelish tirade, which had, by now, attracted the attention of other nearby passengers. I looked her in the eyes, put on a “poor ting pickney” expression on my face and said in a meek voice “Why yu talk to me like that? Yu hurt mi feelings enuh. How about a likkle chups?” By this time, passengers in the vicinity began to chuckle. I leaned over and puckered up, approached her cheek and gave her a nice kiss. Luckily, she smiled, the tension was relieved, and I survived the journey.

About a month later, while walking through a parking lot, a taxi drove up beside me, and as one of the rear windows was being rolled down, a familiar voice called out “Remember me?” It was the same lady from the flight. We both laughed, while I thought to myself how my daring stunt could have gone terribly wrong, and that she could have easily eaten off my head, like a female praying mantis would her mate’s, as I approached her with my gesture of peace.

Flying really is dangerous.

- Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.