SP: “I always get on with my right foot, and I bend down and kiss the ground of the plane. I kiss my hand and put my hand down on the ground of the plane. Getting off, I kiss my hand and put my hand down to the floor.”
The informant is my grandmother. She is an 83-year-old woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who was born in New York City and currently lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. SP is an extremely anxious flyer and has been for her entire life. She said that she has done these rituals since the first time she flew on an airplane when she was a young girl. Though she doesn’t remember specifically learning or coming up with these rituals, she remarked that the Pope kisses the ground when he gets off a plane, so she expects it was inspired by that. She said that when she does this ritual, specifically kissing the ground, people often stop or look at her. At this moment, she usually tells the flight attendant that she is a very nervous flyer.
Though my grandmother is the only person in my family who has a fear of flying, I was always encouraged by other family members, who make a ritual out of doing so, to step onto airplanes with my right foot.
It’s interesting to me how these rituals for flying on airplanes seem to be derived from other folklore or cultural practices. I imagine that the idea of it being good luck to get onto a plane with your right foot is connected to the phrase “starting off on the right foot,” which is an expression used to indicate that someone or something is starting in a positive way. Thus, this ritual can literally be seen as starting a flight off on the right foot. Moreover, my grandmother described how the Pope kisses the ground when he gets off a plane, which may have inspired her in this ritual. She may have seen him do this on television or in the newspaper. However, the act of kissing one’s hand and touching an object is a common gesture done during a blessing. For example, in Jewish culture, parents place their hands on their children’s heads when doing the blessings for sons and daughters. Moreover, on certain holidays, rabbis carry Torahs around the synagogue so that congregants can touch it with their prayer books. Sometimes people kiss their books after touching the Torah and some do it before, so this ritual can be seen as an individual blessing the Torah, blessing themselves through their contact with it, or both. Thus, my grandmother my grandmother kissing her hand and then touching the ground before flying can be interpreted as her blessing the plane so that she will have a safe flight.
I didn’t know about my grandmother’s ritual of kissing her hand and then touching the ground of an airplane upon boarding and exiting. Upon speaking to her about it, I realized that this may be a way to convey how she feels to the people around her. She said that she often uses flight attendants’ confusion at her performance of this ritual as an opportunity to tell them that she’s a nervous flyer. For this reason, I think that this ritual may serve a practical purpose as an emotional or spiritual one. Because she communicates her fear, the flight attendant may be more inclined to be caring or considerate to my grandmother, perhaps soothing her anxiety.
These good luck rituals are deeply comforting to my grandmother. She has never been in a plane accident, so she has no reason to believe that these rituals don’t work. Though my other relatives are not afraid of flying, I think they partake in the ritual of getting on the plane with your right foot similarly because it has never been disproven, so they have no reason not to. I also think that they do this out of an emotional impulse to feel close to my grandmother and to carry on her endearing idiosyncrasies.