Wendy Aron

Sounds Awful

Up in the Air

Flying the unfriendly skies

Posted May 01, 2013

I should have been looking forward to my vacation in Arizona, where my brother and sister-in-law lived. After all, we hadn’t seen them in quite some time, and my brother and I had recently bonded over our joint misophonia confessions.

But the thought of flying filled me with foreboding because I knew it meant I would be trapped in an airplane for four hours with strangers spewing trigger sounds, not to mention the visual triggers that also tormented me.

I had waged war with these sounds and sights on commercial aircraft before.

However, with an endgame in mind and some words of encouragement from my husband, there I was a few weeks later, in a taxi bound for New York’s J.F.K. Airport clutching my iPod as though it were The Queen’s Jewels.

We arrived at our gate at the Jet Blue Terminal about an hour before boarding, and I sat down as prepared for misfortune as the man who has just been thrown overboard in shark infested waters.

Two minutes later, I heard her.

I turned in the direction of the hissing “s” sound and saw a young woman in her twenties with long, unkempt brown hair. She had a British accent, but it did nothing to mask her sibilation.

Every time an “s” came out of her mouth, I felt the intense urge to smash her face with a rock, throttle her, or at least yell at her to shut up. But I knew that none of these options were PC. So, in hopes of getting her to stop talking, I just stared at her with the most intense scowl I could muster.

For a few seconds our eyes locked, and I felt like she was taking my measure. But then she looked away, unconcerned, and resumed her conversation with the young woman sitting next to her. That made me furious enough to want to commit echolalia, the misophonic act of mimicking a sound.

Instead, I tapped my husband on the knee, and said: “There’s an “s”. Then, I pulled out my iPod and placed the earbuds in my ear, setting the volume loud enough to drown out her hissing sound. It also drowned out my husband’s voice, but by now he was used to that.

When we started boarding, I kept my eye on the hissing girl. My worst fear was that her seat would be within earshot of mine. But she remained in her seat at the gate as my block of rows was called. Safe on that count.

As I walked through the plane and approached my aisle seat in row 10, I saw a young man who looked like a deodorant model sitting in the window seat. He was absorbed in his smartphone.

I was relieved about the deodorant model on two counts: 1) Men’s voices didn’t bother me; and 2) He wouldn’t know whoever was sitting in the middle seat, so there probably wouldn’t be a whole lot of conversing going on. (My husband had taken the other aisle seat in the row.)

Seconds later, a young woman who looked like Snooki came and sat in the middle seat in my row. I started to panic. What if she makes a love connection with the deodorant model? They could be talking for the entire flight! What a nightmare! But, she also became lost in her smartphone.

Then, out of the clear blue, the deodorant model leaned over and gave Snooki a kiss. They knew each other! I felt my heart sink. I was on a hair- trigger waiting for her to speak.

To my amazement, when she opened her mouth, no hisses came out when she said the letter “s.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Then, I tuned my eyes and ears into the rest of my surroundings. Nothing offensive.

Could I possibly be in an airplane that was free of triggers? What an unbelievable and incredibly rare gift that would be, I thought, as we taxied down the runway.

And, as we became airborne, I realized I was going to receive it.

Now, I was looking forward to my vacation in Arizona.