The skies are friendly; the passengers are not

Everyone's equal at 30,000 feet

Sun, 2008/11/09 - 22:58 by aargh

Don't be surprised when I tell you that I'm not famous. By that I mean, people don't exactly rush to shove a microphone or tape recorder in my face when I speak. If I were, I'm sure one of my oft-quoted lines would be: "I don't like flying. I just like where it takes me." That goes double for long-haul flights, and triple for internationals.

Sometimes it's enought to make me reconsider the trip. Which confuses people who hear me lament what they deem an exotic destination. "But why wouldn't you want to go?" Experienced travelers, we see that 9- or 12-hour flight as a common bond, not unlike a medical affliction. "Dallas to New Dehli? Oh man, that's harsh."

It's not that I fear flying. Quite the contrary. I wholly appreciate the safety statistics of jumbo jets compared to the horseless carriage. Careless SUV drivers reinforce the point as they try to eat, groom, and chat on their mobile phones when behind the wheel. ("Hey, I gotta call you back, I think I just hit some guy.")

No, I just don't like the sense of captivity and the notion that canned sardines get more personal space. About the only nice thing I can say about the long-haul experience is that the airlines still feed you. Mostly because they fear riots at cruising altitude, but they feed you nonetheless.

But really, just what the hell is one supposed to do to pass the time? Sightseeing grows old rather quickly at 35,000 feet: "Look, honey, it's (still) the Atlantic Ocean!" The in-flight movies? About as enthralling as vision charts you see at the eye doctor, only less so. I used to drug myself to sleep, the problem being that I'd then spend two days trying to wake up. Reading? I get jealous knowing that the book's characters have more freedom of movement, even if they are fleeing for their lives... And with this ban on liquids, you can't bring enough booze to get yourself properly sozzled.

When you think about it, everything there is to do on an airplane is to help you forget that you're even there. Which would imply that I'm not the only person who simply wants out.

Heaven forbid the day airlines permit mobile phones in-flight. I would encourage would-be chatterboxes -- I'm talking to you, salesmen -- to invest in very small handsets. Proctologists will find those easier to remove.

It's not all gloom and doom, mind you. I certianly enjoy the camraderie. The sense that we're all in this together, both literally and figuratively. Because in the tin cigar, at least within your cabin class, we're all equally subhuman. Subject to airline food, poor climate control, and bathrooms so small they should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

There's no room in the airplane for prejudices based on ethnic background, hairstyle, political affiliation or even IQ. Long-haul travel squeezes the nonsense right out of us. Mesmerized by our diminished circumstances, all that's left is the respect we give another person simply for being alive.

It was even better before That Day. You know, that patch of history before airlines were antsy about people milling about. You could strike up some wonderful conversations in the back of the hull. We would discuss where we had been, what brought us together, and what we were going to do once we were out. Not unlike cellmates. Except that we all paid to be here.