Sunday, December 26, 2010 | Categories: Michael's Essays
I've never met Tyler Bozak. Chances are pretty good that I will never meet Tyler Bozak. But I salute him from afar as I consider the monstrous affliction we share.
Tyler Bozak is a 24-year-old center for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now just to explain to visitors from the moon, Toronto used to have a professional hockey team. They were called the Toronto Maples Leafs. Sadly no more.
Anyway, Tyler Bozak, this 24-year-old center for the Leafs is an aviophobe. As am I.
We both have a gnawing fear of flying.
Unlike Tyler, I don't like dwelling on the all fiction. But this young Tyler has the courage to come right out and talk about it. His explanation is clear, straightforward, brimming with common sense.
"I get sweaty," he said. "In my mind, I still don't see how it all works. All that weight floating through the air. Just doesn't sound right." Precisely, Tyler. It just doesn't sound right.
There you are locked into a steel tube after having been scanned, patted, frisked, demeaned and degrade. You sit there beside a guy from Moose Jaw who wants to talk about OTC derivatives, eating pretzels left over from the Chretien era, drinking toxic coffee. After bouncing around the skies for an hour, the planes bumps down and you're in Cleveland.
It just doesn't sound right.
Aviophobia is hardly rare. A lot of athletes are afraid of flying; Wayne Gretzky for example.
There are many famous people afraid of flying--- Muhammad Ali, Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, Sarah Jessica Parker and Wood Allen. Of course Woody Allen has phobias about everything including, oddly, deer.
The actor Billy Bob Thornton said he quit flying years ago because " I don't want to die with tourists."
What is particularly disheartening to us aviophobes are the good natured friends who try to persuade us that flying is the safest way to travel, safer than walking even. Why you are more likely to get killed in a car driving to the airport than flying. Right.
Nobody ever got killed in a car falling from 38,000 feet.
I have little fear in a small plane. I know that if the pilot has a heart attack, I can take over the controls and land the plane safely, in the East River if I have to.
It's the lack of personal control over one's life in a large jet with 300 other people.
The airlines themselves are no help. The flight deck announcements are always upbeat. The pilot or flight attendant never says "It's going to be really rough but the wings will definitely stay on."
Their safety routines are a farce. Explaining how a seat belt works must be only for those people who haven't been in a car since 1967.
Then there is the nonsense about your cushion being a flotation device. Right. If you weight 18 pounds and are the size of Oscar the Grouch.
My flying experience hasn't been all that dramatic except for the bomb threats. Which can focus one's fear of flying in a particularly operatic way.
The first while flying around the US with the racists Alabama Governor George Wallace e who was running for president in 1968. The second bomb threat occurred while on a flight from Whitehorse to Vancouver in 1974.
Now I think my phobia began in a chronic way in the early Seventies. I was flying back from Washington to Toronto. The man sitting beside me said he was an air line pilot dead-heading to Toronto to catch his London flight.
As we took off, I heard him mutter under t=his breath:"What the hell was that"
"What the hell was what," I asked in a breaking panic.
"Oh, nothing," he said. " Nothing at all. No"
An hour of white-knuckinling later we landed and he apologized for upsetting me. He thought he had heard something " funny" on takeoff.
Then there is the turbulence question.
Once on an assignment to the west, we were passing Winnipeg and the flight attendants had just served a breakfast snack. Suddenly we hit an air pocket or something. The plane simply dropped. Overhead baggage fell into the aisle, the food cart crashed down to the back. People screamed.
I looked at my companion, the fabled radio producer Willy Barth. He was white as a pillowcase, brain matter running out his ears.
There is no cure although you can control it through various arcane and expensive therapies.
Whoopi Goldberg has managed to overcome most of her fear by submitting herself to Thought Field Therapy and the ever-popular Emotional Freedom Technique.
Professor Min Zhou teaches at the University of Toronto and is an expert in emotional fear and anxiety.
Professor Min says there is not explanation for its cause except that every brain is wired differently.
"Usually, alcohol would help-p," said the good professor. " If you drink alcohol which affects yours normal brain function and you reach a certain point, then the guy doesn't care any more."
Thank you Professor Min.
I discovered this technique several years ago. Which is why I always get top the airport very early before flight time.
I find that serial infusions of grape and grain go a long way to easing the fears.
And when the gate agent says, "Passengers requiring assistance in boarding please come to the counter," I know they're calling me.