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The Only Way to Fly

There was a time when flying so petrified me that I could barely step into an airport, even if I was just seeing someone off.

I love to go on vacation. My problem is the getting there. I hate to fly. To be completely honest, it scares me to death. Just talking about it makes my heart pound. I have friends who say a little prayer as their plane’s engines begin to roar, ready for takeoff. I start praying while I’m packing my bags. I continue praying on the ride to the airport, through the check-in, while boarding, right before takeoff, and pretty much through the entire flight. When I took a trip to China that was an awful lot of praying.

I have to admit that over the years I have gotten much better, if you can believe it. There was a time when flying so petrified me that I could barely step into an airport, even if I was just seeing someone off. When I had to fly I would make sure to arrive at the airport way ahead of schedule. I’d force my legs to move forward as tried to catch my breath, and then I’d head for the nearest bar. I would pull up a stool and fortify myself with my own little happy hour or two. After I’d imbibed a good number of cocktails, I would have enough courage to get on the plane, close my eyes tight and begin to beg the Almighty to grant a safe takeoff…a safe flight…a safe landing. The only interruption I allowed myself was when the beverage service began. “A Bloody Mary, please. Make that a double.”

One of the first vacations my wife and I ever took was a trip to Mexico. We booked a flight on a Mexican airline. It was the first time we’d ever flown on a foreign airline, which made me even more nervous than usual, but the way I figured it, all airlines are basically the same. We got to the airport early, checked our bags and we headed for the nearest bar. As I pulled up a stool, I was greeted by the smiling face of a friendly bartender. “How are you this fine morning?” he said. “Where are you off to?”

“Mexico City,” I answered.

“Ah, Mexico. I guess you’ll be drinking plenty of margaritas while you’re down there, huh?”

“You know, I have to admit, I’ve never had a margarita. I don’t even know what’s in one.”

“Oh, wow. They’re great. Tequila, lime juice, a hint of Cointreau, a touch of salt.”

“Salt?” I asked.

“Salt,” he repeated. “You should really try one.”

“Alright then. Let’s try a couple of margaritas.”

He mixed a splash of this, a dash of that, shook it up, poured it into a fancy glass with salt coating the rim, and slid it across the bar. I sat there staring at the glass and before I could ask the question, the bartender gave me the answer. “It’s the way you drink tequila when you’re in Mexico. You lick salt off of the back of your hand, down a shot of tequila, and then you suck on a wedge of lime. A margarita just kind of fancies the whole thing up.”

I took a sip. It wasn’t bad. The second one was even better. When the third one came around, it began to taste just like lemonade. “You wanna be careful,” the barkeep warned. “They can sneak up on you.” By the time we heard the announcement of our flight boarding, they snuck up on me so good that my head was spinning and my legs felt like rubber. My wife took my arm and guided me toward our gate.

We checked in and got in line. As we entered, I couldn’t help but notice a man to our right, sitting in front of a huge panel of instruments mounted below a small window. He fiddled around with switches and knobs as gauges gyrated and lights of red, green and yellow blinked. Then it hit me. This was the pilot, but he was sitting right out in the open. There was no door – not even a curtain separating him from the rest of us! I was pretty surprised, but not nearly as surprised as I felt when I looked down the cabin. Instead of the usual plane seats arranged in rows, the seats were metal benches mounted against the walls. Down the aisle, there were poles to hang onto and metal handles mounted on the ceiling for strap hangers. I knew that this wasn’t an American-run airline, but never expected this. I was shocked.

We followed the crowd inside, eventually settling down on one of the benches. Too shocked and too “margarita-ed” to utter a word, I sat in silence. My wife turned to me. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“I don’t know what to say. I knew this airfare was cheaper than usual, but this is ridiculous,” I whispered. “Metal benches instead of seats? No safety belts? No little yellow breathing thingies to drop down in case of trouble? And the pilot? Sitting there right in front of us?”

My wife glanced around then stared back at me as she began to laugh out loud. “What’s so funny?” I asked.

She leaned in close. “Honey, this isn’t the plane. It’s the transporter that takes us out to the plane.”

Did I feel silly? Yes, I did. Was I embarrassed? Yes, I was. Was I relieved? Oh, was I ever!

Fifteen minutes later, sitting in my comfortable cushioned seat, my seat belt cinched up good and tight, certain there was a little yellow breathing thingy tucked above me, I felt safer than I ever had on a plane before. As the engines started up, and we taxied onto the runway, I still offered up a little prayer, but before I had finished it, I was sound asleep and stayed that way through the entire flight to Mexico – the most delightful flight I ever had.

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