How I learned to stop worrying and love being a passenger ...
I will have flown the 500th time soon. I will have half a million kilometers in aircrafts under my belt if you calculate it just with the great circle distance. I will have been in the air for over a month in total. I hoped that I would be able to send this article while sitting in an eastbound Lufthansa 747-8 to Hong Kong … but it didn’t turned out this way. The calculation was based on the fact that there wouldn’t be any flights until end of March for me except my Northern California/Oregon/Washington trip starting next Saturday. My 500th flight will be a flight with AirCanada flight number from London to Hamburg … the last leg of the trip i just mentioned.
As I said … not that noteworthy than a Hongkong flight perhaps in the upper deck of a 747. Instead I’m publishing now, before a quite hard week for me arrives. And for my vacation I plan to cut almost all lines until I’m back. I just plan to take my mobile with me. So you are reading this text - which i started a two months ago - today. Because it’s the last chance before I have no time for it. I think most people will think this text is totally boring. But as they say “Dance, as no one is watching” you could say “Write as nobody is reading” as well.
You may think: Hey … 500 flights in 12 years is not that much. No reason to celebrate this with a long text. And perhaps you know people who are doing this in 5 years.But for me it is different. And perhaps this story is interesting to someone: It‘s a story about how i got there because in 2005 nothing looked like I would ever enter an aircraft again. That my vacations would be limited to whatever is reachable by car or train. How in 2006 things changed. This story is about this change. It’s a story about love, it’s a story about fears.
The process started with a discussion with one of my direct managers at Sun in 2005 … i was really upset that many of my colleagues were invited to a big tech conference in San Francisco and i was destined to sit in Hamburg. I had a discussion with Gerd - my manager at the time - and he told me something in the sense „We have limited slot on the conference and i don‘t want to give a slot to a person who probably won‘t enter the aircraft.“. He was perfectly right. And so i stayed in Hamburg.
Why did he pointed to the fact, that I wouldn’t enter the aircraft? Because there was really a high probability that I wouldn’t enter it. Because he knew that I was afraid of flying. At the end all colleagues knew that I’m afraid to fly. I was very open about it.
But I have to start with the story much earlier. I’m going back 32 years now. You have to know that i‘m not from a family that started early with flying. I‘m from a large family. I have 5 siblings, at that time 4. Growing up in such a large family is great and I wouldn’t give away this childhood not for all kingdoms of this world. But our vacations were by a crowded car somewhere Germany, not in fancy resorts where you have to fly first.
So I had no real contact with aircrafts. This changed with a poster of a Cargo 747 of of Lufthansa that I got as a gift by a (I can’t remember exactly, but I think so) female Lufthansa employee at Bremen Airport when i was 12 or so. My father had to air-freight an urgent spare part for a amusement park ride to the US on a weekend and as i had nothing better to do, I drove with him to Bremen. So I got this poster. The cargo 747 pictured on it was taking off at dawn or at dusk and as a 12 year old child I really thought “Woooow”!
Of course I loved to look after planes. As we lived between some German Air Force bases and a aircraft shooting range (Nordhorn range) I was able to recognize military aircrafts with the same ease as today kids can differentiate Pokemons or dinosaurs. “Oh … that’s a A-10. The engines have an very distinct sound. An AlphaJet from Oldenburg. Oh an F16.” In that area very low flight levels were allowed. So a lot of details were visible from ground with bare eyes. I even thought that you were sometimes able to see the pilot sitting in his cockpit, but nowadays I think that was part of my imagination. That said … they were really flying low in our area. But different than others I had no problem with the noise. I really loved aircrafts. I even wanted to control one … but I was wearing glasses and wasn’t really fit. And I was terribly lazy. At that time the requirements to start training as a pilot were extremely high. So being a pilot was out of question for me careerwise. But I loved the thought of flying. But for many years flying stayed something I observed from flight level 0.
Fast forward several years. School, Abitur, university, German Army, university, having my first jobs. The time of my first flight got nearer.
My first flight ever was in 2000. I was a not so small customer of Sun (purchased 3 E10000 for example, three Powderhorns, a lot of storage) at that time and Sun wanted me to speak about the project. I planed an infrastructure that consisted out of three datacenter with big iron. Today I would have designed it differently, but that’s not the point of this text.
I was invited to speak at a conference in the German Museum … so i had to go to Munich. Okay. I boarded the flight. It was a Lufthansa flight. It went reasonably well. I wasn‘t afraid. I was unsure what would happen. Curious. But not afraid. I flew to Munich. Did my first ever public presentation at a Sun event. Failed miserably because the topic didn’t fit into the overarching theme because of a incorrect briefing. And flew back.
Let’s correct me. Perhaps I was a little afraid. Because I remember that my brother laughed at me when I expressed my concerns what would happen if a bird is ingested at cruise altitude. But he just said “Have you ever heard of a bird at 10km altitude”. Of course i never heard. Thank god that mobile internet and Wikipedia checking wasn’t such a thing in 2000/2001. Then I would have known that there were indeed incidents of crashed with birds at 10km height. Today I know that in 1973 Rüppell’s vulture crashed into an aircraft at 11.3 km height. But I didn’t knew this at that time and I think that it was better that way. But even with this knowledge it’s ridiculous to think about hitting birds at 10 km. There are not that man Rüppell’s vulture over Northern Germany …
Not much later, this changed. I think it was the computer fair SYSTEMS in Munich following this conference. It was bad. I had a really horrible flight. Towards Munich there were relative few problems for me. Back was pure horror from my point of view. Bad weather. Really bad weather. I never heard the whole lot of the passengers to collectively say „OOOPS“ after we hit a hole in the air. I saw someone writing and I really thought in my twisted mind that this guy was writing his good bye letter. Probably he just wrote down a shopping list or he was noting down travel expenses. But my mind was in panic mode. I must have looked that pale and fearful that a stewardess felt obliged to ask if I’m okay. And that was the flight where I really started to be afraid of flying.
I had much worse flights since. Hitting the runway as hard that I thought the landing gear must be still in the runway at that position (this was New York in 2008). Go-arounds in the last second. Extreme turbulences with “Seat belt” signs on for hours. Breakfast in an United aircraft. But this was the one that really triggered the beginning of my fear. But the fear didn’t went into it’s flight-prohibiting full scale immediately. I had some pretty long range flights after that.
At the start of 2001 i flew to San Francisco the first time. It was with KLM. It was horrible. But not because of the flight alone. I sat middle seat exit row. Exit row was nice, the problem was that two people of my size sat left and right of me. Let’s say it was really tightly packed in this row.
It was a nice trip as soon I was in San Francisco and later in Boston. Everyone thought i was there to get a job in a Silicon Valley company. But it was really just a customer visit in combination with trip to our Boston offices. It was right after one large snow storm. I have seen more snow only 1979 … and that was the snow disaster in northern Germany. I still puzzled that the people thought what kind of genius i was … yeah … a 27 year old guy just flies to the Silicon Valley and gets a job. Yeah … sure. I’m probably pretty good at my job. But many are pretty good in this job. But i‘m disgressing.
I took five things home from this trip: First: My love for San Francisco. Second: A bad Caramel Macchiato addiction. Third: My health went downhill beginning right after my travel back and that was the reason why i went to hospital not much later.
Fourth: I got an increased level of fear, however with a twist. My fear of flying got worse during the flights to SFO. Significantly worse. Knowing that I would fly that long I has in a steady state of red alert before the flight. When I entered a aircraft to Amsterdam, I was on red alert. When I was in the 747 from Amsterdam, I was on red alert. When flying to Minneapolis I was on red double alert. When flying to Boston, I was on red alert. When flying back to Amsterdam, I … well … wasn’t on red alert. I think I wrote in my old blog about the story that I had the best and nicest discussion with a totally stranger ever on this flight.
I gathered an bulkhead seat and was first really pissed when they started to attach a bassinet in the very row I was sitting. After we found out after quite some time, we were both from Germany and switched to German and talked during the whole flight. It turned out, that woman which husband was a doctor in the US was visiting her parents near Hannover to show them the relatively newborn kid. It was a really nice flight. I don’t know who this woman was. And I honestly don’t want to know. We went our own ways in Schipol. I didn’t asked for a name. Her son or daughter (I can’t remember) must made it’s Abitur last year. When thinking about this for this blog entry, I felt really old then this thought hit me. In hindsight there is one important fact in this and it’s the reason why I still remember it: I was able to enjoy a flight. I was able to enjoy a flight as soon as I didn’t really thought about the fact that I’m in a aircraft. But at that time this was the fourth thing I got from this trip. A significantly heightened alert level, a lot more fears.
The fifth thing was a discussion with a colleague from Boston about my fear of flying where he practically said „Joerg, when fate wants to kill you, it will kill you“. It was a longer discussion. But that was basically the summary.
A nice unrelated side story: Many years later I found out, that a someone I met in Lueneburg end of 2017 and to who I am on friendly terms was practically in the neighborhood for American conditions at the same time in 2001. Life is strange. And it surprises you at every corner.
So I really was in love with San Francisco. I didn’t wanted to leave for Germany, but I had to. I could have stayed there, if they would have allowed me.
Today I’m thinking differently about this. I mean, I like the people in the US, I like California, I like the West Coast. I’m really interested what you people are doing over there. I’m even a subscriber of the Washington Post, which had a quite cheap subscription for people outside the US at some point in time. But I really like my German health insurance, I like the German social security system. And I really like “Schwarzbrot”. Honestly … you Americans have clearly no idea how to make a good “Schwarzbrot”.
Well. Someone explained to me that California is not really the United States - but something similar - and San Francisco is not really California - but something similar, so it’s easier for an European to fall in love for San Francisco.
However, things have changed her the years. Let’s call my relation to San Francisco nowadays a good long friendship which had to endure some periods where we were a little at odds. It’s not a love affair any longer. Because I saw the bad sides of San Francisco. I saw homelessness, I saw the downsides of the boom, I saw the consequences that the influx of high income people into the area did to people with normal jobs at an ever-increasing speed. I read the complaints of colleagues about ever increasing costs to life there. Sometimes you see so many dark sides that you lose your love but as you can’t let the love go, a friendship develops. And this happened with me and Francisco. And with 11 journeys to San Francisco I had plenty opportunity to see the dark sides. Three trips to New York and 2 Trips to Las Vegas gave me additional insight to the US.
But in 2001 this was different: When leaving San Francisco I wanted back for sure. This would me important later on in this story. From San Francisco I flew via Minneapolis to Boston. Stayed there for a few days and had this nice flight on my way back to Bremen via Amsterdam.
Okay, I wrote that I got a medical problem, it almost stopped my second long distance flight. Singapore. My only flight to Asia so far. My doctor told me that i wasn‘t allowed to fly to Singapore in Economy. Flying would risk thrombosis because of the medication i had to use. But i had to install and configure the networking equipment in our Singapore datacenter. The projects progress depended on it. The CEO of the company i worked for at that time safed the day. I have to thank him at foremost for many insights, but for this upgrade as well. I think I owe him a lot. He gave me some of his miles and upgraded my flight to Singapore to Business Class and my doctor finally greenlighted the travel after some discussions. As i was in Singapore for quite a time the flight back was out of the doctor prohibited time frame, so i could fly back Economy. It flew to Singapore and back … and it didn‘t went well.
Oh, it was somewhat nice. Lufthansa is a great airline and Singapore Airlines is very reputable as well. Business Class in Lufthansa was nice. It was my only business class experience for many many years until i had enough miles of my own. I sat in a brand-new Lufthansa 747-400 on my way to Singapore. I had a row for me alone back to Frankfurt. From this perspective everything was nice. In regard of the brand new 747-400: You don’t know what to think in that case. At first you think “Cool, Band new. Everything in mint condition. No danger”. But then you think “Damned. Brand new. No burn-in phase to find out assembly errors”. Years later someone told me that Lufthansa is a really big and special pain in the crossed photons for the aircraft manufacturers when accepting the delivery of a plane. My doubts about this 747-400 fresh from of Seattle were possibly unfounded.
However I didn’t feel fine during the flight. I was on red alert all the flights outbound and inbound. All the time there was a siren running im head. Every noise was the harbinger of doom. Every bump was the first step of going down. I did my job in Singapore. Went back. And - oh wonder - I got home safely to Bremen after almost having an argument because I didn’t switched of my mobile. I simply forgot it when entering the aircraft as I was totally exhausted after the long flight on mental red alert. The guy sitting behind me was obviously convinced that I wanted to kill him.
I arrived in Bremen and rode home to Oldenburg with 250 km/h. I wasn’t driving. My brother picked me up at the airport with my car . I wanted to get home fast and he drove fast. The fast car showed something important. It was a nice indication of the nonsense of my fear of flying when I think about it nowadays. My skills to steer a car at 250 km/h are today still significantly worse than the skills of a trained pilot to fly an aircraft. And at that time I was 27 and a really bad driver. Some people suggest, I’m still a bad driver and they may be right. But still I was not afraid of my driving skills, I was afraid of flying. It should have been the other way round. But I felt in control with the car, while I didn’t felt the same in an aircraft. I should have been afraid of myself.
I think I had an additional flight to Frankfurt in 2001. I was invited to talk about Sun Storage from a customers perspective. But I don’t recall how I felt during the flight. I recall the conference. I recall insulting analysts on the panel in the way that I said on the panel that i don’t trusting them, because they don’t have to wake up at 03:00 AM because of their analysis. I just remember that the landing was terrible. Bremen has a short runway 2km. It’s 1.5 km shorter than the one for example in Hamburg. It has half the length of the one in Frankfurt. Technically it has a slightly longer runway, but there is an agreement in place that only the large transport aircrafts of Airbus are allowed to use the new part of the runway to reduce noise emissions. Damned. I’m disgressing again. What I really want to say: I had few smooth an nice landings in Bremen. That landing was no exception. It was raining. It was windy. My brother picked me up at the airport and he told me that the landing looked really frightening from the outside.
Well, the company i worked for at that time went bankrupt 2001. But i had already a job at Sun at that time. The reasons why I took the job at Sun were rather simple: Interesting technology, Hamburg looked much more interesting to me than Frankfurt and it was a Silicon Valley company. You know … close to my beloved San Francisco. So I started to work at Sun in July 2001.
To get up to speed I was send to a number of trainings. It was already the time where Sun new-hire trainings didn’t took place in San Francisco. Damned. But I was send to some courses in Munich. I think it was still 2001 because I flew from Bremen. The first half year I lived in Oldenburg close to Bremen not in Hamburg. So Bremen was my obvious airport. I have to reconstruct it this way, because it was long before I entered every flight into a spreadsheet or a website to keep track of all the flights I’ve done.
I think it was my second or third trip for Sun. I had to go for a Sun Cluster Training in Munich. I was at the airport. I sat at the right gate. The flight was announced. I stood up. I couldn‘t walk. I sat down. All remaining passengers were asked to board the plane. Couldn‘t stand up again. To say this with Marshall Mathers undying words: Palms were sweaty, knees were weak, arms were heavy, just no vomit from moms spaghetti. Mr. Moellenkamp was called once. Mr. Moellenkamp couldn‘t stand up. Mr. Moellenkamp was called twice. Mr. Moellenkamp couldn‘t stand up. Mr. Moellenkamp was called a third and last time. Mr. Moellenkamp sat silently crying on his seat at the gate. And the flight went to Munich without Mr. Moellenkamp. Half an hour later I left the airport, drove into the office and had to explain my manager why I’m not on the way to Munich.
Today I think this reaction was related to really horrible dreams the night before the flight. Those finally pushed the amount of fear over a level where it was not possible for me board the aircraft. I was crushed to death in my dreams several times on really brutal ways. Again and again. I saw my self swimming butt up in the ocean. The last was interesting, because the flight to Munich doesn’t even touch the North Sea, let alone an ocean.
So it was 2001. I had got a job at a great company with its headquarter near the city i really loved. And i wasn‘t able to fly. Total fear of flying. A guy afraid of flying which already had two really long distance flights under his belt. Sound ridiculous. But fears are often ridiculous. And i did what all people with fear do. I tried to cope by avoiding it. It was really a horrible feeling.
I did great lengths to get around flying. When i had to go to Munich i took the night train. Night trains are horrible. At 192cm you can’t lie straight in there without bumping your head everywhere. It was moving into every direction. Forget sleep when lying there. Imagine bad turbulences in an aircraft and you have an impression. As a train doesn’t need 10 hours from Hamburg to Munich the train stood for significant time somewhere along the route and that were the only times enabling me to sleep in the train.
When i had to get back to Hamburg i sat for hours in the train to Hamburg while seeing the aerials of the aircrafts which would possibly carry colleagues to Hamburg in an eighth of the time I needed. That was at a time when the trip between Munich and Würzburg was horribly slow as there were no high speed rails there. The high speed part was still under construction. After Würzburg it was fast, as the the main high speed corridor started there. Getting from Munich to Hamburg took forever.
Long range business travel was a disaster for me. I knew it couldn‘t go on like this forever and so I did my first attempt to get back into the air.
I read a lot and often I find ideas and guidance in books. So I went into a book shop and bought two books. Yes, a real book shop. With paper in it. Lots of paper in it. Not Amazon. That’s important because how I got to a second book. I purchased the book “The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying”. It was a roaring success. Not. At. All. It was the book written by Allen Carr, who wrote books about how to quit smoking. And it looked quite promising. Everything was assuring. Explained a lot of stuff. Talked about most common fears. He wrote that aircrafts don‘t crash because of turbulences, don‘t crash together midair and they don‘t lose wings midair. Well the problem with the book were the occurrences before reading it . Over Queens an aircraft crashed because mishandling the controls in wake turbulences on 12. November 2001. Around the time when I read the book more and more news got out that it were turbulences. Over the Bodensee in Germany two machines crashed into each other on 1. Juli 2002 and a fire fighting aircraft in the US looses both wings while in flight on June 17, 2002. Knock-out in the first round. If he had written that aircrafts don’t crash into skyscrapers, I would probably still use trains today. Sorry for this, but I remember exactly this thought. The book is still sitting in a drawer here. But just to proof that i‘m not joking when i‘m telling this story. The book think didn‘t work at all. I went to a seminar for people afraid of flying. It didn‘t work. I really hope that his books about smoking are working much better than the one about flying.
The second book I purchased was “Why I hate flying” from Harry Mintzberg. It was something different than I thought. I don’t know why I exactly purchased it … I just took it because the cover appealed me and it was standing on display at the register. Didn’t looked into it. Just purchased it. Yes, impulse buying as written in books. But that book had more influence on my way back into an aircraft than the book how to enjoy flying. Interesting that a book about hating flying was more effective than one about enjoying it.
It was because of the last chapter. It was about the reason, why you can - despite all efforts of airlines to make flying a horrible experience - can still love flying. Because of the people you meet while traveling. And I thought he was right. You can enjoy flying because of the people you meet. Mr. Mintzberg described a person called Anna in a flight. My remote equivalent to Anna was the woman of the flight from Boston to Amsterdam with the baby. Of course the circumstances was totally different, the style of the conversation was totally different, the encounter was totally different.
It’s the underlying idea, the concept at its base: It was a memory of a really great conversation over hours about “god and the world” as we say here in Germany, even when it’s not about religion. Something that was really enjoyable but what I would have missed without being in an aircraft. Independently if it’s a woman from Hannover with her baby and a great conversation. Or a discussion with a rabbi flying to Chicago about the fact that being an atheist doesn’t mean that you believe in nothing as I believe in science. I’m sure he knew it … I think he just wanted the discussion. Or this really tall guy from Scandinavia that looked like he could tear the aircraft door out of the hinges with his bare hands that was actually more afraid of flying than. I’m pretty opinionated that this guy was a a genetic project to combine Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Sylvester Stallone and probably a part Dwayne Johnson. A person where I felt the obligation together with other passengers to sound assuring when he showed clear signs of panic.
My conclusion after reading this book was that flying was nothing inherently bad that you should avoid but something that you should be able to do because in some strange ways it enriches your life significantly. I would possible miss out meeting a large number of interesting people. Oh … and I wouldn’t know that there is/was actually a Playboy edition in Hebrew. Well, why shouldn’t there be one. But I guarantee you, your first thought is “WTF?”
Fun fact: When looking up the English titles of those books I laughed wholeheartedly about the fact that there were only books about losing the fear of flying in the “Customers who purchased this item, bought this as well”. Implies that more people like me are buying at least two books about it … probably more.
That said, at that time nothing helped. Despite wanting to be able to fly, I was unable to do so. I didn’t wanted to book a flight as I was totally sure I wouldn’t board it.At the end I had a trust issue with one book and the other book gave me a reason to fly but no path.
The path arrived a few years later. I didn’t entered an aircraft for some time. I avoided my fear. And i kept it this way. Until 2005. Until the discussion with my manager about the trip to the conference. I wanted so badly to be at this conferences. I wanted to get back to San Francisco again. I had this discussion with him, and at the end I had an agreement with my manager. „Fly three times in Germany short-haul and i will nominate you next year to go to the CEC“. That was a deal.
But now i had a problem. I had to fly three times. Three times. Pure and blank horror at first. Wouldn’t be one flight enough? I had to work on myself. I had to do it fast. I had to find a way how i get into control of my fears.
I did something different than before. I do what I’m always doing when hitting a problem in my professional life: I try to understand it. Learn it. Analyse it. From the ground up. Starting with the basics. I try to learn everything that you can learn about the field where the topic occurs. I have the capability to understand a topic so fast, that you need to be really an big expert in a topic to recognize that i‘m not an small expert, but just someone that encountered a topic a week ago giving a good show. I think my dentist is still thinking I’m not telling the truth about my job when talking with him … but that’s just because I was quite often at the dentist and we were sent to the dental university clinic for dental problems when I was at the German Army and learned a lot of words and dependencies.
So i learned everything about aircrafts, the physics of aviation. To learn that an aircraft in the air isn‘t defying physics, but that it would defying physics when it wouldn‘t get airborne at the end of the runway. I read air crash investigation reports. I discussed with pilots and people from Airbus i knew. I was living right in Hamburg and with Lufthansa Technik and Airbus located here it‘s hard not to know someone working in the field of aviation. Hey, for a short time i was dating a woman working at Airbus, but that didn‘t worked out very well because I was an idiot and it was just coincidence because we meet otherwise. It wasn’t part of a big plan to lose my fear of flying. I learned a lot about how aircrafts are kept airworthy. The processes around aircrafts. How you build aircrafts. About the business models. There was my interest again for everything about aircrafts. Like at the age of 12. Because they are great pieces of technology. And it’s an interesting business.
2005 was increasingly difficult for me on a private level as well. I made many mistakes. I just can bite my butt about them today. Something that only changed in 2007. Interestingly on a morning where I sat in an commuter train to the Hamburg Airport for a flight to Cologne. What exactly happened is not part of this text.
But I thought a lot about myself. At that time I thought a lot about what my colleague from Boston told me years earlier, and I started to think he was right: When fate decides that it’s your time, it’s your time. And that fate has a hard punch. I somewhat came to terms with this.
The problem was and still is to a part: I’m a pessimist. I always assume bad things will happen. Trained to be like this by life. I still assume that something bad will happens. Always. But not at the extent then 10 years ago. I saw too much shit to give a shit any longer. And that was probably equally important than learning as much as possible about aviation.
More time went by. In October 2005 there was a very important visit that accelerated everything. I don’t know this person knows it, but she was really important to get me get back to San Francisco. Bettina, a good friend since we lived in the same student apartment block in Oldenburg and her daughter visited me in Hamburg. I acted as a guide through Hamburg and had the insane idea that they could get into Hamburg High Flyer. A captive ballon in the inner city of Hamburg.Before I really thought through all the implications of the idea, I expressed the thought and at the end we bought the tickets. 3 … not 2. A captive ballon. Hell. I had enough machismo in me at that time in order for not wanting to look fearful. In addition I already spent the money. I really entered the plattform of the ballon. And then it rised. On the outside I looked somewhat cool. On the inside I was screaming. But when we here at peak height something strange was happening. I started to make photographs and my fear was under control. At that day I thought I could really be successful with my journey back into the passenger seat of an aircraft. I was sure that I couldn’t justify my fears to anyone when it got known that I was able to enter this captive ballon.
The year 2005 got to an end and beginning in 2006 I finally booked a flight. It was not a flight, it was the flight. The single most important flight. I don’t think I would fly today if I weren’t able to board it. A flight to Stuttgart. I organized everything that way, that there were no big waiting times after security. I had to run to get my plane. No time for thinking. I was in the plane at the last moment and before I could think I was in the plane and the doors were closed behind me. Now I couldn’t get back. Fear. But interestingly no panic. The flight started, took me to Stuttgart and landed. Without incident and it was one of the smoothest flights on my now long list of flights. I remember it that exact as this flight is still very important to me.
The flight back was easier. I have to admit that I was really tipsy on that flight. As I normally don’t drink any alcohol that means: A small beer for me. I you want to make me drunk, that’s cheap endeavor. I celebrated my first flight on my arrival back at the Stuttgart airport after the meeting with a nice meal and a small beer. This flight was really great. However drinking was obviously no tactic for my flights as I you can’t go to customers drunk. But for my first flight back from a customer I thought it was okay.
I think a few weeks later I had my three trips by aircraft I promised as a proof to my manager that I have my fears under control. It were even more when my manager held true to his promise. My manager nominated me for the conference I attended my first Customer Engineering Conference in the Moscone Center in central San Francisco. I was back. I was back in the city to which I fell in love at first sight. Sitting in a Starbucks in San Francisco. Having a great conference. I learned a lot of things there, I met a lot of people there. Won a prize for the most innovative usage of technology due to blogging about flying to a conference while flying to the conference. At that time internet in an aircraft was fairly recent. I don’t know if it was really innovative but I have still the Manfrotto tripod that I bought for the gift certificate.
I’m still a pessimist. I still think that when I die in an aircraft crash, it will be at the flight back after a customer meeting so I had all the work. Or it will be on a flight into my vacation so I had nothing of my vacation. Really, my internal alert level is less on a trip to a customer than back. Just to further illustrate the irrationality of this fears: I really feel more safe in an aircraft, when there are babies on board. I think somehow my fear center is telling me that fate wouldn’t be too harsh in this case. I would probably run out of the aircraft screaming if I ever be the only passenger in he aircraft as some people have experienced. But that doesn’t happen on the race tracks I usually fly. I don’t tell the story about people getting back their bottle deposit in front of their flight. I’m to ashamed of those thoughts.
Of course the fears are reappearing from time to time. But seldomly as strong as in the past. Since starting to board aircrafts again I had only once a problem with entering an aircraft. I was really bordering on not boarding the aircraft that day. It was March 24th, 2015. The day the 4U 9525 crashed into the Alps. A crash what I thought at that day was a “normal” crash and not a suicide crash. I never entered a flight that silent before or after.
So, you’ve heard a long and boring story about my fear of flying. If you expected a recipe how to lose your fear of flying, i have to disappoint you. Because I never lost my fear of flying. I‘m sitting in an aircraft the 500th time soon. And i‘m still afraid. It‘s just that i‘ve learned to accept to be on yellow alert all the time with short periods of red alert. I learned to accept that I’m still on red alert all the time when flying. And that will never change. I just learned to enjoy flying while being on yellow alert, while being on red alert. I learned to consider the fear as a part of me. I learned that flying is a necessity to be able to work in certain areas.
I started to love and fear flying at the same time. Perhaps because it still feels as a personal triumph. And I hope that before my fate calls me, I will write about at least flight 1000. But that depends at foremost on factors that have nothing do do with flying. I never regretted to go this way. I have future plans for journeys that depend on my future. I have still to visit Hawaii for example. So when when Udo Jürgens sings “I’ve never been to New York, I’ve never been to Hawaii, Never walked through San Francisco in a pair of torn jeans” I can say “Yup, been there, done it” if a one inch rip because of a sharp screw head standing out counts.
And with this I want to conclude the story how I learned to stop worrying and love being a passenger.
PS: I don’t want to give tips. I’m probably a bad advisor in this regard. Remember, I’m still afraid. And the fears of other people have other reasons. But I want to share one important experiences: You cease control to the pilot when entering the aircraft. Ceasing control is about trusting someone. So I started with well known airlines. My first flights where with Lufthansa and Germanwings, which was and is a subsidiary of Lufthansa. Of all the airlines I still trust them most. Or distrust them least. Still only at Lufthansa or Swiss the internal alert is at the verge to go to green. And I still try to get flights on them, especially long range ones. I irrationally didn’t trust Air Berlin which was a reputable airline before they went out of business. I was always on red alert when flying with them. For no reason. United is a good airline with a horrible concept of breakfast in-flight. But I’m on deep-yellow alert when flying with them. My preference of LH had nothing to do with miles or so … but with finding the off-switch for the alert in my head.
So use the airline of your least distrust.