Today I had a passenger tell me before take off that she might be nervous about the pressurization. I felt a bit alarmed by the way she said it, like she had serious inner ear problems. When we took off her whole body tensed up, and she immediately started hyperventilating. She looked as if she was sure she was about to die, and wailed "will you hold my hand?!" This was all during the first flight phase (where if I got up I would roll down the aisle)
As soon as it was safe I went and sat next to her, she was having an anxiety/panic attack and I tried to talk her down. We started with deep breathing. Her breathing was so shallow that she wasn't able to hold a breath for 2 seconds, let alone 10. She was heaving.
She said "I like to talk, talk to me" So I started talking. She kept cutting me off..."a different subject" So I would try new topics. She kept looking at me intensely in the eyes. Her eyes looked like they wanted desperately to tell me something, but who knows what. They made me think of cow's eyes...like soulful and hollow at the same time.
I suggested reading a magazine, I had it in my hand and she said "That's a pretty color" She urged me to find the page that the magazine was open to and yes, there it was, a pretty yellow sweatshirt.
I asked her about her travel plans, her family, and her hobbies. She did say "I like to sing." I said "Oh yeah? Are you in the choir in school?" And next thing I know she is singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" Fortunately there weren't many people around because she wanted me to sing with her. There I am at work, singing Judy Garland tunes and holding hands with a complete stranger.
Next I am telling her that deep breathing and distraction are the best ways to deal with fear of flying, but nothing I say is getting through. Suddenly out of no-where she starts saying "We are by a river and there is a beautiful rainbow" So apparently we are going to "the happy place" at this point so the two of us are spouting off pleasant words "...and there are dolphins..." "...and we are having barbecued chicken..."
Next I began a filibuster. The "barbecued chicken" comment calmed her, so I started talking about the food I liked. I could feel her arm relaxing so I kept adding whatever I could think of "I wanted chinese food but all they had at the Detroit airport was Japanese." "I like Taco Bell." "I like Bagel Dogs from Einstien Brother's Bagels"
The fillibuster worked remarkably well, I was able to leave her side and provide a beverage service (I was with her for a good half hour.) The whole experience was completely surreal, the 4 hours of sleep I had didn't help things any.
So next time you don't want to be at work, imagine at that moment you are participating in a "Doe a Deer, a Female Deer" singalong, holding hands with a stranger, and frantically describing your Grandpa's farm in detail, in hopes they won't pass out from hyperventalating.