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As a former nervous flyer, I have developed a personal routine when I board planes. I always wear a few good luck charms, and I have a little ritual when I board the plane. Though I don’t actually think that these things keep the plane aloft, I wouldn’t want to fly without them.
This past week I boarded a flight to Mexico and as I walked down the aisle to my seat, I counted several people clutching rosaries and lucky charms. I smelled the pre-flight shots of alcohol that at least a few of the passengers had indulged in.
I made my way to my seat – even number, window seat, right side of the plane… always my preferences
I was seated next to a little boy. He was pale and concerned. He told me that this was his first flight ever. He then proceeded to breathe into a paper bag.
“I’m really sorry. I might barf,” he apologized.
Two seats over his mom gripped an armrest. Her terror was palpable. Almost as palpable as her struggle to stay awake. Her anxiety meds had just kicked in. How ironic to be very nearly unconscious and still in the grips of an elemental panic. I’ve been there.
“You’ve flown before, right? Will you tell me what’s going on?” he asked.
It was me and the kid. I was going to get him thru. Whatever it took.
Knowing nothing about this kid, other than the fact that he was 12, into Fortnite, and not afraid of roller coasters helped me quickly craft a plan.
Distraction. His flight ritual would be distraction. I whipped out my phone and unpacked my apps. First he would help me time-lapse film the take off and landing with Hyperlapse. Having a job to do usually helps to short circuit the nervousness. Then, later, if he got nervous again, I’d get him to “help me” advance in my game of Two Dots.
The paper bag was quickly put back into the seat back. Fear turned to excitement. Anxiety to anticipation. All it took was a little ritual, a little faith and order.
I’m not the only formerly phobic person who needs rituals. Rituals are even more calming than superstitions. You don’t have to believe they are magical to make them work. And that is precisely what makes them magical. I cannot imagine flying without my bag of tricks.
It’s made me curious about other people’s flying rituals and superstitions. What sort of stuff do other people do when they fly?
So I asked my friend Mary Jo – who has over 30 years in the airline industry to share some of the superstitions and flying rituals she has observed both on the ground and at cruising altitude. In this episode we chatted about some of the little and big things people do to keep themselves calm on flights.
And then she told me something really surprising that she herself observed once from the flight deck. What was it? You’ll have to listen to find out!