JAM: "A stranger offered to hold my hand in public."

Mamamia editor Jamila Rizvi: “It’s not going away. Not until they find that plane.”

“Do you want me to hold your hand?”

“Oh, you don’t have to, I mean… alright, I mean, no. Actually yes, please. That would be lovely”.

A stranger offered to hold my hand in public last week and I said yes.

Spontaneous stranger hand-holding is a random act of kindness I’d normally be rushing to write a column about; praising the generous individual for looking after the person who happened to have been allocated the seat next to them.

But given I was heavy breathing like a teenager at a One Direction concert when the hand-holding offer came, I wasn’t particularly inclined to tell the world about it.

That was actually the second time it’s happened this month. The hand-holding.

And then yesterday, it happened again.

This time it was a colleague rather than a stranger. She didn’t have to ask. She just saw my expression and silently reached over, taking my trembling palm in hers. When I am scared, my poker face is even more disastrous than usual. My features contort, my lips twitch, tears well in my eyes and to add to the frantic picture, my limbs start to shake involuntarily.

Really, it’s hard to ignore. Which explains why it now takes two hands to count the number of instances someone has asked me if I am alright or if I need assistance, in the past few weeks.

My name is Jamila Rizvi and I hold hands with fellow passengers when I’m on a plane.


It’s been 63 days since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic control.

It’s been 63 days since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic control.

A 247,000 kg plane, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members gone, disappeared, vanished, seemingly into nothing.

And while the world’s media has devoured every new conspiracy theory and piece of unconfirmed information, the truth is we know only marginally more today than we did on 8 March.

And for those of us who don’t like to fly, it’s been nothing short of agony.

Now of course it’s a kind of agony that pales in comparison to those who are intimately connected with this tragedy. Those who are anxious and unknowing of what happened to their family and friends.

But when you’re terrified, this sort of empathetic logic becomes meaningless; the scale of relative pain and fear of the unknown disappeared. Instead of putting your anxiety in perspective, you become utterly consumed by thoughts of impending doom.

I’ve written before about my fear of flying. It has come and gone over the years. Sometimes, I will go as long as six months without being bothered by an air pocket, an unusual engine noise or a bumpy ascent through the clouds. But there are also times – like during the past 63 days – where an all-encompassing and paralysing fear takes over.

I’m someone who likes to be in control of myself and my surroundings at all times. In my personal and professional life, I like to set goals and achieve them. I like to have a strategy, I like to have a plan, I like to make lists and I like ticking things off those lists.

So being high up in the air, flying in a tubular metal box with hundreds of people I have never met and having no autonomy over when I get to come down? Really not my thing.


There is a sense of helplessness and inevitability that comes with putting your life in the hands of strangers. I know that technically I do that every time I leave the house and cross a road but for some highly illogical reason, being in the air makes the lack of control far worse.

Some find it exhilarating, some find it freeing, others – like myself – find it completely terrifying.

I fly every week at least and have done for the past six years. Working in politics, then being in a long-distance relationship and now living between two cities means flying isn’t a choice for me – it’s a necessary and unavoidable part of my life.

And it is incredibly difficult to explain an illogical fear to logical people, as I have tried to do countless times since MH370 went missing. They come back at me with facts. But don’t you realise that air travel is safer than driving a car? They respond with helpful information or tips. Turbulence doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the plane, it’s like a boat going over a current. They suggest I distract myself. Have you tried reading a book or listening to your iPod? Or they just get confused. But you fly ALL the time, that doesn’t make any sense.

“And it is incredibly difficult to explain an illogical fear to logical people, as I have tried to do countless times since MH370 went missing.”

Ah. Confident flyers, you finally make a point I can get jiggy with: it doesn’t make sense.

‘Humans were not built to fly,’ my brain screams when I am in the air. This. Is. Not. Normal. I am up here. With nothing but air – 30,000 feet below me. And I don’t get to decide when I get to come down.

What if this thing just stops and falls out of the sky? Surely that sound isn’t normal. Why is the descent so steep today? Was that a bump? Why is the seatbelt sign not on yet? The captain didn’t say we were expecting turbulence. That’s it. We’re all going to die.

The uncertainty surrounding MH370 takes my fears to dizzying new heights. Not knowing what caused the plane to crash and not knowing where it crashed, means any vague ability I might have to rationalise the situation becomes moot. I remain utterly convinced that any of the plethora of explanations for what happened to MH370 is about to happen to the plane I am sitting on.

In recent weeks, the search for MH370 has started to fade from our news radars. Authorities continue to look for answers but in time, questions will be asked about whether further investment to find this plane is really necessary.

Closure for the friends and family of those on board aside, couldn’t the money be better spent? There is no chance for survival, planes are flying all around the world like normal, so do we just write this off as a freak incident? Does the world need to collectively accept that we will never know the fate of this plane and its passengers?

But for those of us who fear being in the air, this is the outcome we’re all dreading. Because until that plane is found, until someone can give a certain explanation as to what happened to those poor people, there will be no peace for the nervous flyer.

The extent of possibilities is too great. The scale of fear: shattering.

The terror every nervous flyer is feeling right now isn’t going away. Not until they find that plane.

Are you scared of flying or have you ever been? Do tragedies like this make it worse?

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