Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Flying Tradition

Every time I hear about another plane crash. I’m reminded of when I first began to fear flying. I was 17 and in France with a group from school. As we were preparing to go back to the United States, I found myself terrified to board the airplane. I knew I wouldn’t have a choice and the thought filled me with anxiety.
            It was the summer of 1985. The only terrorist threat to a commercial airplane at the time had been hijackings and those had been out of style for years.  All that changed when an Air India plane was brought down by a terrorist’s bomb on June 23, 1985. All 328 passengers and crew were killed.  I was in France at the time. Our tour group didn’t get a lot of news and most of what I saw was on the front page of French newspapers. I surmised it was serious when I saw the adults whispering out of range of our ears. We were flying one week after the crash. Every time I saw the charred wreckage on the front of a newspaper; I knew I didn’t want to step into that airplane.
As our departure date neared I became obsessed with talking to my Dad. After all, he was the one who explained the theory of flight to me and he always kept me safe. Dad was an aeronautical engineer and spent his career designing the very type of airplane I would board.  He had flown in test flights taking off on the top of mountains in Peru. For most of his career, he traveled all over the world selling these planes to international airlines. I knew that Dad wouldn’t allow me to board a plane in a situation he didn’t feel was completely safe for his little girl.
            International calls weren’t easy back then. We didn’t have cell phones or laptops.  I tried to call collect once but French operators and the time difference made it difficult.  Eventually, my folks called me at the hotel pay phone.  I honestly don’t remember what he said. I wish I could make it sound awe inspiring. I know he assured me that the plane was safe and well designed. And that security was being heightened with this new threat.  It didn’t really matter because after that I was no longer worried. If Dad said it was safe, then I knew I would be soon be safely home.

            After this, it became normal for me to call Dad every time was I was going to fly. It seemed to me that each time I was preparing to fly an air plane crashed or a new threat was discovered. Before boarding any plane, I knew I needed to talk to Dad. It became part of my trip preparation; pack my toiletries, passport and call Dad. Sometimes we’d talk about planes and their safety. Sometimes we just talked about my destination. The subject didn’t really matter just hearing his voice put me at ease.