Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Amtrak Exploits Fear of Flying

I’m afraid to fly. I do it all the time, but it’s one of the hardest things I do

I’m afraid to fly. I do it all the time, but it’s one of the hardest things I do. The only reason I get onto planes is because it’s just bad karma for me to get up in front of hundreds of students every year and tell them to face their fears and see their worries as challenges and then say, “But as for me, I’m taking the bus.”

So I fly with my friend, Dr. Smirnoff, and I go where I need to be. But I have never exactly “relaxed” when approaching an airport.

Trains, however, usually relax me. Often when planning my trip to NYC from Hartford on Amtrak, I permit myself the luxury of indulgence. I bring my headphones, an actual fun book, and a sandwich from home to eat during the three-hour journey. I can take a nap, lose myself in a novel, and not worry about turbulence up ahead.

True, if it some terrible weather happens—such as drizzle—the trains could be delayed for hours. But even that usually doesn’t bother me all that much (unless I have a lunch scheduled; then a small sizzle of panic can set in) because you always feel—if worse came to worst—you could exit the train and either go home or rent a car and get to your destination. This is not something available to you in terms of air travel, especially if you’re circling O’Hare. You can’t say to the crew, “Okay, enough already. Drop me off and I’ll get car service from here.”

But I have a complaint to make to the Amtrak folks. It has nothing to do with drizzle delays or with the fact that babies are permitted in the so-called Quiet Car, which is not a policy I understand, but I’m not making a fuss.

Amtrak, I’m complaining about the fact that you raised my fear of flying anxiety level deliberately by several of the ads you’re using to promote the use of trains. There are ones saying, "Not everyone was meant to fly." Nice. Thanks for that. Thanks for undermining 30 years of therapy.

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You have a huge poster in Penn Station announcing “Our Cabins Never Lose Pressure.”

Amtrak, did you really need to bring that up? I understood your other posters, the ones about how your method of transportation permits passengers to move around, go to the observation deck, and the rest, but did you need to raise the specter of those little oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling if the airplane cabin loses pressure?

Did you want to sound smug, arrogant, and so-darned-sure of yourself? Did you want the direct comparison?

It doesn’t seem to suit you. I was talking to other folks in Penn Station as we were waiting for our gate announcements, all with the desperate gaze of those trying to get the last plane out of Casablanca, and we were talking about the posters. Our collective response seemed to be this: “Well, what they really wanted to say was, ‘Unlike planes, we don’t crash, but actually that’s not true. So they had to stick with cabin pressure.’”

Maybe we’ve been watching too much Mad Men to accept ads at billboard-value anymore, but nobody in my little clutch of random passengers liked the message behind the media. The images are sort of charming—very WPA, nostalgia-generating—but it’s not very sporting of you to say, essentially, “We think you have a better chance of surviving if you use our vehicles rather than the silver bird that goes in the sky.”

Bon voyage and take some of the pressure off your passengers, OK?

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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