Flying The Friendly Skies

The company that I work for sent me away on an expense paid trip to Mobile, Alabama. I live in New Hampshire. I barely knew where Alabama was. The purpose of sending me on this trip was so I would be a bigger tax deduction to them, and while I was there, I would also attend a five-day management course. This course was not optional if you get my drift. One thing about this trip was that it required me to travel by airplane. I had never been on an airplane before. Perhaps it was the thought of being strapped into an insanely heavy object that has no right to be airborne in the first place, and hurtling through the air at an altitude (airplane talk for “height”) of several miles at a jillion miles per hour. I’m not sure.

Of course to comfort me, friends and family would gather around me and tell me stories about their successful flights, and “how you do not even know you are in an airplane once you take off.” They try to convince me that, statistically, you are safer in an airplane than in your automobile. I don’t know what they drive, but I didn’t fall for that nonsense. Here are my statistics: If you were in a parking lot that was made up of thousands of miles of wide open area, and you were the only vehicle on it for miles, your chances of being involved in an accident are decreased significantly. Perhaps getting struck by a meteorite would be about the only worry you would have. You could rule out getting struck by lightning since you are in one of the safest places — your automobile. This is how I see air travel.

On the other hand, if the sky had a million-jillion airplanes flying around in it, many of them rushing to get to the same place, things would be different. If airplanes had to stop for traffic signals and cross intersections and survive bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour, statistics would change. If getting your pilot’s license was easy as getting your driver’s license and was something every sixteen year old did, and their financial situation warranted that they buy an extremely used airplane… I think you are starting to understand. Statistics mean nothing. Think of this: If you were in a vehicle that just stopped working while you were operating it, would you rather be in an airplane or an automobile? If you did get into an accident with another vehicle similar to yours, would you rather be in an airplane or an automobile? I rest my case. Plus, when you stepped out of your vehicle to exchange licenses and registrations, it would be less traumatic in an automobile.

I did not have to go through the hassle of obtaining my tickets. The company took care of that aspect of the trip. They also took care of arranging for transportation, and providing me with a traveling partner. The majority of our management staff had to take this course, and there was some worry about who would be paired up with whom. Obviously, you don’t want to send a single person who wants to frequent the “hot spots” with a married person who doesn’t, etc. I feel I was fortunate to get the partner that I did. For the purpose of this story, I’ll call him “Jeff.” Another reason I’ll call him “Jeff” is because that is his real name.

Jeff had been on several trips and courses, and this took the majority of the worry off my shoulders so I only had to worry about the airplane crashing. Jeff had a fiancée, and was not prone to frequenting strip clubs. We could both pretty much eat any type of food, which made choosing a restaurant an easy event. I was looking forward to seeing another state, and attending the course seemed less threatening than it had before.

We were to be picked up Sunday evening, about 5:00 PM at the place of our employment by an Airport service that would bring us to Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. I was looking forward to the ride to the airport because, due to watching too much television, I thought we would be going in a limousine. I wish I could have seen the look on my face when the van pulled up with the company’s name on the side of it and I realized this was my limousine. However the driver was very entertaining as he swore at the other motorists who cut in front of him. Anybody who has driven into Boston — and by “driven into” I mean actually sat in the drivers’ seat and stepped on the gas pedal and applied the brakes as needed.

Boston is a tangle of one-way streets, rude people and drivers that have had the brake pedal removed from their cars because they never use it. The word “Boston” is synonymous with continuous road construction that never seems to accomplish anything other than blocking off traffic during rush hour. These construction workers should all be put on the drug “plutosin,” which as anybody that attended Lamaze Childbirth Classes knows — induces labor. (Get it?) Boston has people proudly walking around with their hair dyed purple, and sticking up so they look like radioactive chickens. These people did this intentionally as did the people who get their tongues pierced, and tattoos on their foreheads. I am not accustomed to men holding hands with men, unless it is on their death beds and they are related.

We got into Boston at approximately 6:30, which is when it started to get dark. I was wondering what type of people would start showing up after dark in Boston if the Chicken-People are out in broad daylight. We noticed many strange people at the airport, and I knew that with my luck, one of them would be sitting right next to me on the airplane. When it was time to board the airplane, I have to admit I was apprehensive.

If you’ve ever seen a movie on television that depicted an airplane, you have seen the incredible amount of space that they contain. Passengers often play volleyball while they are in mid-flight, and the seats are so far apart that you need telephones to converse across the aisles. The seats are extremely large and have two armrests each. The meals are so unbelievably huge and delicious, and the flight attendants are so helpful that they give you stock advice and the entire crew is just so happy that you never want to get off the airplane. This is what I expected. Needless to say, this vision was not quite correct.

First, we squeezed by the crew that stands directly in your way when you are trying to get on the airplane to say “welcome aboard,” and made it through the area that I thought was a utility closet. I was informed by Jeff that this was the first-class section. After we passed the first-class section, the huge line of people suddenly started getting wedged in the aisle between the seats. I finally got to my seat and sat down. I knew that I would not be able to get out of my seat without the “Jaws of Life” or a large shoehorn. Jeff got pushed to the back of the airplane where I assumed he either found a seat or got pushed out one of the rear exits. In either event, I didn’t see him until we had landed. The seats were like a movie theater, with one armrest between the seats. If you are not fortunate enough to get the armrest, you have to bend your arm in an unnatural position for the duration of the flight. As the airplane fills up with people, I notice that there are basically four types: those who smell like they haven’t bathed in weeks; those who actually haven’t bathed in weeks; those who try to cover up the fact that they haven’t bathed in weeks by dousing themselves in cologne or perfume, and those who sit next to me.

I was unlucky enough to receive a middle seat, which obviously means I would have one person on each side of me. The woman that sat to my left, immediately opened a book entitled “Prayers You Can Say While Hurtling Towards The Earth In a Flaming Piece of Twisted Metal That Was Once an Airplane.” I could tell she wouldn’t be much help in consoling me on my first flight. The man to my right showed up after the woman and myself had been seated. It is impossible to move once you are seated, and for this man to get across to his window seat, he had to climb up on the woman and kind of duck-walk Chuck Berry style across our thighs. It didn’t help that he was about nine feet tall. Once he sat down, he had to bend his upper body forward so that his head didn’t get stuck under the overhead compartments. This resulted in him staring down at the top of the head of the person in front of him. Again, I would not be able to rely on this man for any consolation. In addition to that, if I turned my head towards him, I was staring directly at his left armpit. This was going to be a long trip.

The head flight attendant stood up at the front of the plane, and starting saying something so softly that you couldn’t hear her, but it was vastly entertaining watching her act out what she was saying. She was like a robot, or a being from another planet. She spoke in monotone and moved mechanically. It had something to do with the door coming off and seat cushion being used as flotation devices, so I kind of tuned her out. To the best of my knowledge, there are no oceans or lakes en route from Boston to Alabama, and if I saw one, I would undoubtedly bring it to someone’s attention immediately.

After about nine hours of sitting on the runway, the plane gave a little jolt signaling us that the pilot had dozed off and hit one of the levers inadvertently while waiting for clearance. We finally started to move, and I got the feeling the pilot was teasing us because the plane would start to pick up speed, and just as you thought you would start lifting off the ground, it would slow down again and take a turn onto a different runway. This happened approximately seventy times. I think they had to refuel the plane again. We eventually started to slowly lift off the ground and once the plane was completely airborne the pilot took a hard left. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that when I looked out the left window, I saw the ground; when I looked out the right window (which I happened to be sitting relatively close to) I saw — nothing. There was nothing there because the pilot was flying sideways. I didn’t feel that this was a good idea, but I couldn’t tell him that, otherwise he might try to go completely upside down.

During this time the flight attendants were walking around like flies. All I could figure was that their shoes had Velcro on the soles, or they were from another planet as I had suspected. Once the plane leveled out, the beverage cart came around and I asked if they had a beer. The male flight attendant said they had Stroh’s .”I said a beer,” I tried to explain, but that was the best he could do. It cost four dollars. He also informed me I was the only person on the plane so far to ask for a beer. I replied that it had something to do with the selection, and a bitter fight started to break out. He wasn’t wedged in an airplane seat, so I drank my “beer.”

A short while later, the “supper” came. It was difficult to hold the utensils and get the food into my mouth due to the fact that my right arm had long since gone to sleep from the odd position it was in. Armpit man had fallen asleep and was using the armrest. I poked the woman to my left in the right ear several times with my fork before I finally had control of my arm. Of course, by then most of my supper was firmly lodged in her ear. Everything in the lunch tasted kind of similar, and the portion wouldn’t fill a hamster’s belly. I am sure many a flight has ended with several passengers dead due to starvation. We had been in the air for about 20 minutes and I wanted to land already. The novelty of air flight had worn off.

The pilot announced that we were over several landmarks, which nobody could see anyway because it was cloudy and dark. The fact that the clouds were below us was disorientating to me. Another problem I was having was that airplanes recycle the air, and then blow it back at you through vents that focus the stream of air directly in your eyes. When it was almost time to land, I couldn’t close my left eye which was all dried out. We received the message that we would be making our final approach in about ten minutes, and then they proceeded to tell us that the temperature was about 71 degrees in Nashville, Tennessee. I thought this was an odd thing to say, since we were going to Alabama. As it turned out we had to deplane (another word indigenous to the airline industry) in Nashville and then get on an entirely different plane to go from Nashville to Alabama.

The lights from the buildings below were a comforting sight. When we were just about to land, I got into the “landing mode” by digging my fingers into the steel armrests. The actual landing was nothing short of scary. The closest thing I could figure was that the pilot forgot to put the landing gear down. There was a hard bump, followed by a couple of short, skipping bounces, during which all the passengers were simultaneously going “ohhh.” I heard one person say, “I’ve been flying for fourteen years and that was the worst landing I ever had.” This was not encouraging. He could get off. I had to get on another plane. I really didn’t like this person.

The second plane ride was almost a mirror image of the first one except Jeff and I had seats next to each other, the flight was shorter, and we got less food. It wasn’t a meal flight, so we only got a snack. This snack consisted of a microscopic bag of peanuts which the flight attendants would throw in your general direction, and you would have to make a brilliant move to catch it, otherwise it would fall in between the seats and be lost forever. All the attendants seemed to be having a grand time beaning sleeping passengers with bags of peanuts.

Although this flight was so much shorter (it only seemed to last about three weeks) I was thrilled when we were finally on the ground — at least for the next five days. The entire planeful of passengers got off the plane wobbling around like drunks, with their right arms paralyzed from not having an armrest, and their left eyes dried open by the air vents. The people who had fallen asleep, were walking around with drool on their chins. We all looked like the zombies from The Night of The Living Dead. People do this voluntarily. When we got off the plane in Mobile, Alabama the first thing Jeff did was ask how my flight was. I told him it was great. I don’t know exactly why though.

(This is part one in a 3-part series. Here is part 2…)

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