Small Confined Spaces: Air Travel and Stress

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CHICAGO - OCTOBER 26:  A JetBlue Airways jet sits on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport October 26, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. JetBlue today announced the start of service to the city. The airline will service New York's JFK Airport and Long Beach Airport from Chicago.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Steve Slater, a JetBlue employee, quit by shouting out a few expletives over the Intercom system, grabbing some beers, and exiting out the plane's emergency door after a passenger's bag clocked him in the head. But it's not really take-this-job-and-shove-it insomuch as plane travel has become so stressful that it can make the most even-tempered people snap.

Um ... okay, perhaps this is more my bias as an Ativan-popping flyer. I wasn't always this terrible with airplanes. I flew several times a year back and forth to college and until recently, traveled overseas at least once a year. I wasn't thrilled on those ten hour flights across the Atlantic, but I never needed more than a few drops of Rescue Remedy to get me through the turbulence.

There was no tipping point, no terrible flight I can point at and say is the reason for all of my fears. But over time, I became terrified of the idea that a plane has no stop button. If you hate the way the flight is going, there is no way to pull over to the side of the road and catch your breath. You're stuck until the flight is over. This is the same fear that keeps me from getting on a cruise (have never been on one and I don't think I ever will) and makes me dizzy whenever we need to cross the Bay Bridge (4.3 miles is a long time to be stuck over water).

Therefore, I get it when Mary Roach is on the Daily Show and explains the psychological issues of a trip to Mars.

What happens when you're in a confined space with other people for a long period of time. It's very frustrating. Space is a very ungiving and frustrating environment. You tend to get angry.

Yes, Mars is a little different than Pittsburgh to New York, but perhaps we can chalk it up to an accumulation of little bits of stress over a long career of flight.

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It explains why we feel so good when we hear Sons of Maxwell croon "United Breaks Guitars."

Because we've all experienced that out-of-our-control sensation that accompanies air travel, where your possessions as well as your safety is completely out of your hands. It explains why Kevin Smith snapped over Twitter when Southwest asked him to leave a standby flight because he did not fit comfortably in one seat. Air travel brings out our worst selves, our loudest selves. When the same events -- possession destruction or discrimination -- take place on the ground, we don't bring the same passion to our indignation. We experience delays and damaged items daily, yet we talk about these same situations on airplanes as if the airline secretly holds a vendetta against us.

Airplanes are stressful for different people for different reasons. Some hate to be in a confined space. Others are anxious about placing control of a situation in a company's hands. And yesterday, with the death of former US Senator Ted Stevens, we get the reminder that airplane travel can bring with it consequences more dire than a broken guitar or having your head bonked by a falling passenger bag.

How are you on airplanes? Ever felt stressed on a flight?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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