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Time flies - except when you're sitting on a plane. Then it can go very slowly, especially if you suffer from a fear of flying ('pahad tisa'). Those of us who experience even a mild "flight or fight syndrome" have to struggle with ourselves not to run away on the runway.
On a recent trip I pondered the question why in Hebrew the expression "time flies" is either "'hazman ratz'" - the time runs - or "'hazman tas'." As I considered the issue - a lot better than wondering about just how turbulent the trip above a thunderstorm was going to get - I was surprised that the colloquial term uses "'tas'" for flies rather than "'af'." In typical Hebrew fashion, there is a difference between the two verbs: 'latus' is used more for something with an engine ('matos', airplane; 'masok', helicopter; 'mazlat', small pilotless plane), whereas 'la'uf' is used for objects and creatures ('la'uf kmo tzipor' - to fly like a bird; 'tzalahat me'ofefet', a flying saucer, for example).
I'm obviously not alone in my flights of fancy. A university lecturer I had in sociolinguistics used to point out that if people were to really listen to the flight-safety announcements before takeoff ('hamra'a') - not just watch a flight attendant going through the motions - most would be unable to continue their journeys. We all travel on a wing and a prayer. After all, my teacher noted, what passengers are being told has greater significance than the location of life jackets (under your seats) and the fact that oxygen masks will automatically descend in emergency (mothers first). The message, lost in the attendant's soothing tones or the antics of the cartoon figure giving instructions on the screen, is that there exists a distinct possibility that you might not reach your destination. Or any earthly destination. No wonder it's so much easier to leave the worrying to the pilot ('tayas') and sit back and pretend to listen while wondering what in-flight entertainment is on offer.
They say the sky's the limit - 'hashamayim hem hagvul' - but to get there you have to pass traffic jams on the way to the airport. The more Israeli you become, the more likely you are to call it by the acronym Natbag - Nemal Teufa Ben-Gurion. Part of the Israeli travel experience is arrival three hours ahead of time to enable a thorough security check ('bedika bithonit') and then wait.
Talking of acronyms, El Al has in recent years largely managed to get rid of its old image when the name stood for "Every Landing Always Late." One method has been to ground tardy passengers: "'Hanos'im ha'ahronim letisa XYZ mitbakshim'..." "The last passengers for flight XYZ are requested..."
Apparently it isn't the travelers who got caught in traffic who are the problem; it's the passengers who check in and then check out the duty-free stores. Duty-free shopping is a national obsession and both 'shopping' and 'duty free' have become common in spoken Hebrew. It might be "duty" free, but there are still some responsibilities, warn the airline companies, but even a frequent flyer ('nose'a matmid') might get off to a late start as he tries to buy all his gifts before even leaving the country. I'm no highflier but, I admit, one fear must be arriving back home and realizing you have a present tense situation on your hands.
A few years ago, I wrote about an El Al pilot who was giving courses on coping with flight phobia. Mikki Katz told the plane truth: "An aircraft is not friendly. It makes strange noises and rattles and shakes."
His method was to teach passengers what really happens. For example, when the flight attendants' internal phone rings, the phobic are sure it's to inform the crew of an imminent disaster, Katz noted. Yet, it is really just a call by the purser to tell the back galley to begin heating up the coffee.
With this in mind, I decided to take control of my immediate situation and ask the pleasant flight attendant ('dayelet') on my recent trip why she was requesting that the window shutters be raised as we prepared for the landing ('nehita'). I was brought back down to earth with a bump. "It's in case of an emergency," she said with the standard stewardess smile. "We want to be able to see if there is a fire or anything..."
That's the last time I ask cabin crew a question beyond: Do you have a slice of lemon? I'm just going to put my head in the clouds when they wish me: 'Tisa ne'ima' - Have a pleasant flight.