It’s not the takeoff, or the flight itself. It’s not the fact that I’m sitting in a metal bird, flying at hundreds of miles per hour and weighing much more than any thing I’ve ever encountered, a feat of physics that, despite understanding I still struggle to comprehend. It’s the landing.
I still remember United Airlines Flight 232 – the failed-landing-turned-fireball at the Sioux City airport. I was 10 years old. I watched footage on the nightly news in Jackson, WY, where I was spending the summer with my grandparents. The connection to a place that was just an hour away was not lost on my young mind.
The crash had little to do with the landing – it had to do with a rear engine failure and loss of flight controls. Regardless, every time I’m in an airplane – just seconds from touching down – I remember that crash. I remember the fireball. I remember the death toll.
I hate this. Because I’m smart enough to understand that we’re all mortal, and that fear only keeps us from living, and that air travel is nowhere near as dangerous as car travel. Air travel is nowhere near as dangerous as real life, to tell you the truth. I love airports, and I love the flights. I love it all.
The thunk of the landing gear. The pull as the plane starts to slow down. The fear. The memories – that fireball, that death toll. I always close my eyes. Because I’m supposed to. But also because I’m suddenly – and predictably - scared shitless.
Seconds later, it’s done. I brush it off. I go into the airport, once again amazed that I sat in a metal bird and defied physics.