- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

The speakers on the plane click and crackle as the pilot clears his throat, readying his obligatory Southern drawl in preparation for an announcement.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” he says. “As you may know, this airplane is equipped with three engines, but unfortunately, one of ours just doesn’t want to start.”

I listen intently as he casually describes the function of this third engine (“we only need it for air conditioning and to keep the other two engines cool”) wondering as he speaks just how important it is that airplane engines refrain from overheating.

It seems this would be sort of crucial, but I’m not a pilot or anything.

The full plane groans in unison as the captain explains that a maintenance crew is on the way. I start thinking of a graceful way to ask the people seated around me if anyone has a Valium.

It’s bad enough that I have to fly. Now I’ll have to fly in a plane with a recently repaired engine. Knowing this means I’ll spend the entire flight listening for sounds that might indicate the repair was unsuccessful. This idea will cause me to sweat, concluding the air conditioning isn’t working and the engine is out.

It’s a recipe for a panic attack.

But what’s this? No sooner does our pilot wish us a pleasant flight (assuming we get off the ground) than a ground supervisor named Jon strolls through the plane looking for two volunteers to be bumped from the flight in exchange for free tickets to anywhere the airline flies.

As it turns out, I would like to fly anywhere the airline can take me in a different plane, so my hand shoots into the air. “My daughter and I can take a later flight,” I say helpfully.

“Follow me,” he says. Betsy and I unbuckle our safety belts (by pulling on the release clasp — something we were once again just trained to do) and head toward the front of the plane.

The passengers I pass look at me as though I’m a little crazy, giving up a seat on a plane in favor of an inconvenient change of schedule. I return a puzzled gaze as if to say, “Did you not hear about the engine that won’t start, and do you not value your very life?”

As we follow Jon back into the terminal, I wonder if I’ll later recall this as a seminal moment, realizing it was divine intervention — God’s desire for me to live another day rather than stay onboard with the sheep destined for their demise.

Let’s not forget about the free airline tickets, either. I may not like to fly, but I do like to go places, after all.

We do the paperwork with Jon and then get directions from the airport into the city to find a place to eat. By the time we sit down in a restaurant and order our food, I’m a lot less nervous (though admittedly this might have something to do with the glass of wine).

Over dinner, Betsy wants to know why I make such a fuss about flying. “It’s no big deal, Mom,” she says. “It’s like being on a roller coaster.” She likes takeoffs and landings and even thinks turbulence is fun.

“I used to enjoy flying,” I tell my teenager, “but then I had children.”

Betsy can’t understand why being a mom would take the fun out of air turbulence. “What does that have to do with it?” she asks.

“I can’t stand the idea of leaving you all motherless if something were to happen. In fact, the only time I like to fly is when we’re all together as a family.” This explanation only resonates with other mothers, I think.

“Mom, that makes no sense. You’d rather we all went down in a plane than live without you?”

It doesn’t sound very good when she puts it that way. But still.

“I just don’t like to fly, OK?” I say.

We finish our dinner and head back to the airport, where I stress out about the long lines at security. Standing in my bare feet, I have visions of the plane leaving without us while my gum and eyeglasses await X-rays. This is the ultimate irony for nonfliers such as me — we’re anxious about having to get on a plane but we also worry about missing it.

Of course, there’s no reason to be concerned because the flight is delayed by several hours, leaving me more time to contemplate the possibilities for disaster when finally the plane and the crew arrive from points across America and at last we can get under way.

When we finally board the plane, the air conditioners are turned on so powerfully that my daughter and I must huddle like refugees to stay warm. All the waiting has left me exhausted, but I can’t sleep in what feels like a walk-in refrigerator. Another reason not to like flying.

Then again, as I snuggle up to my daughter and let her head rest on my shoulder, it occurs to me that if the air on the plane is uncomfortably cold, this can mean only one thing: The third engine obviously is in fine working order.

I decide this is my new safety standard — I’ll only fly if it’s freezing inside the plane.

Rational? Of course not. But still.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybeth hicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@ comcast.net.

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