When you think about how your life is going to change when you get a flight attendant job you think of the normal adjustments. You know you’ll be more nomadic, always in transit, living out of a suitcase. You’ll travel more on your days off and develop friendships with people in many different cities/countries. You’ll learn a whole new vocabulary full of airline jargon. You’ll forget the days of the week and only know dates. The term “weekend” will lose all meaning. You’ll be able to read military time as quickly as normal time and layovers will be in terms of hours, not days. Even if your layover is exactly two days, you’ll say “forty-eight hours” and not “two days.”
I knew all of those things would happen. I was ready for it. What I was not expecting or even warned about was all the plane crash dreams I’d have and they start almost immediately. I think my first one came during the first week of flight attendant training. When all you hear all day and all night for seven weeks is about mechanicals, crashes, evacuations, medical emergencies, emergency equipment locations, terrorists, hijackers, and general airplane safety, it really is no wonder your brain keeps it going even while you slumber.
I had several dreams a week during training and I prayed once I was on the line and had a life again, it’d calm down. I thought getting out of the airline bubble and exposing myself to non-airline things would do me a world of good. The frequency of the dreams did calm down, but never went away. For my first few years of flying I’d still have plane crash dreams once a week. Then it slowed to once a month. Thirteen years ago today I was in flight attendant training and I can say that now I still have these dreams once a month, at least once a month. I have more dreams about planes crashing than about sex, which is a damn shame. Can we at least mix the two? Please?
It took me awhile to mention this to my other classmates during training but once the topic was on the table, we were all in agreement. I wasn’t the only one suffering from this nocturnal hell. My classmates and I even noticed several prominent, repeating themes in these dreams. One was this recurring thing where we’d be flying over water at a very low altitude, so low that the tops of waves would lick the bottom of the plane. Eventually a big wave would come over and just drag the plane down into the murky depths.
Another universal theme was flying under things like power lines or bridges, sometimes through tunnels as well. I’d say at least half of my plane crash dreams have to do with power lines or bridges. We usually make it under but our wings clip something and we go down.
I wasn’t really that shocked when I learned that other flight attendants had plane crash dreams but I was fascinated by the fact that skimming the ocean and flying under things was something shared by most of my colleagues. Even some flight attendants from airlines in other continents have said the same thing. I’d really like someone to explain that one to me! Thoughts people?
I think the strangest part of these dreams is that I always survive. Sometimes we all do, but usually I’m the only one. I think when it happens for real I won’t even panic. I’ve seen it played out hundreds of times before and I know what to expect. I’ve kinda known from the day I started this job that I’m going to die in a plane crash. I’m not pessimistic or scared, it’s just a feeling I have.
On May 22, 2008 I had an interesting twist on the usual ho-hum plane crash dream. This is my journal entry from that day…
I had the most disturbing dream today. It was a plane crash dream- which I’ve kinda gotten used to. When I first wake up they disturb me just as much as ever but the staying power doesn’t last that long anymore, just a moment of terror then right back to sleep.
Today though, for the very first time, I had one of these dreams while I was sleeping on the plane inflight.
In my dream we had just taken off from LGA and after a couple of minutes the Captain made a frantic announcement as the plane started struggling and flying erratically. Unfortunately the PA system was really bad and I couldn’t understand a word he said, it sounded like on the subway, or Charlie Brown’s teacher, or Kenny from South Park.
I could tell we were going down but also turning around, trying to make it back to LGA. I didn’t care. I didn’t even look out the window to see what was going on; I just knew it wasn’t going to end well. People were screaming and we kept going down and turning sharply. I just stared forward and tried to go to sleep.
Eventually I looked out the window right when we were about ten feet from the water, though we were also right by land. You could tell the pilot was trying to go down in the water but close enough where you wouldn’t have to swim very far to get to shore. That made a lot of sense to me. He did a great job with the dying aircraft and splashed it down with minimal damage on the edge of the bay. The top of the aircraft was blown off but that only made it easier to get out.
When the plane settled, no one moved. I didn’t understand why so I jumped up from my seat, climbed out the gaping hole, ran down the wing toward the shore, and jumped out into the shallow water. I knew we weren’t supposed to bring anything with us but I also knew no one was going to run me down and stop me so I grabbed all my stuff.
When I finally got off the plane and to safety, I looked back and saw that the wreck was actually worse than I thought. There was a very good chance the people in the front may have been badly hurt or killed. My photojournalism training kicked in and I started taking pictures of this “spot news.” Funny how my need to help the other people didn’t really enter into it.
I woke up right about then, right when our plane started it’s descent for landing at LGA. I woke up in a fright, I mean it really fucked with me. Was it just one of those things or was this some kind of premonition? I can’t explain how different it was having a plane crash dream while flying, but it definitely added an extra layer of terror. I guess because the best part of a nightmare is that you wake up and realize you’re safe at home and so far removed from whatever you were experiencing, but this time I woke up and I was in the exact situation as in my nightmare.