July 1997
s m u g
by Joe Procopio


The Art of Flying Well

It's inevitable. You or someone you love will have to fly this year. And, maybe it's just that I'm too young to remember the bad bits of the good old days, but, to me, the art of flying has drastically deteriorated from the romantic affair it (supposedly) once was.


The cause, I believe, is actually the effect of a drastic drop in ticket prices over the last few years. Not so much the affordability, airfares have been relatively inexpensive for some time (enough to compete with driving costs for trips over five or six hours). But now people have gotten used to it. Plus I've found that there's a faction of American consumers that, as a whole, don't really respect something unless they pay a great deal for it. Thus, once one has flown a couple of times, it becomes gauche to actually enjoy, prepare for, and behave during a flight.

Oh, there's also the global positioning of the work force to consider. Why use the phone to close that sales deal when you can be there tomorrow and get in some good schmoozing? Salaryman now flies every chance he gets.

Furthermore, as planes become more and more packed and competition rises and airlines and airports look for ways to trim the bottom line, the little luxuries that once were prevalent in air travel are no longer.


But I'm about to make things better. Single-handedly. I'm going to give you nine wonderful little rules that, if you stick by them, will turn any plane trip into an interesting, if not rewarding, experience.

Rule #1 - Develop an Interesting Flight Persona (IFP)
This should be done as a preface to the flight, maybe while you're packing. Decide who you're going to be on this flight. Make it interesting. If you're on your way to New York, then why not become a UN interpreter being called in for desperate negotiations in a hush-hush terrorist situation at the World Financial Center (don't use World Trade... too obvious)? Invent a country of origin and speak broken English.

If you're headed to some God-awful place like, I don't know, the Midwest, then say you're scouting locations for the next Coen Brothers flick. Be careful here, you may be setting yourself up for a couple of hours of Raising Arizona and Fargo quotes.


Rule #2 - Get a Ride
This is essential. Do not drive yourself to and from the airport. Unless you are made of money or you're on an obscene expense account, you will undoubtedly have to forego parking anywhere near the terminal. It costs $200 an hour now.

I'm not kidding.

If you do drive yourself and you're not departing any earlier than, say, 7:00 a.m. (HA!), you're gonna have to hike out to the remote-parking, park-and-ride, leave-your-car-in-a-muddy- unsafe-far-away-place- that's-easy-for-car-theives- to-get-to-lot, whatever it is they call it in your area.

And then you gotta ride the bus.

So find a friend, relative, ex-girlfriend, taxi, anything. You must have moved someone into an apartment or helped paint someone's house lately. Call it in. You'll thank yourself. Furthermore, following Rule #2 is a prerequisite for Rule #3.


Rule #3 - Spend as little time at the airport as possible
The best flights I have ever had are those I've had to run for. Besides, when have you ever been on a flight that departed on time? You end up sitting at the gate, staring at the tarmac, wondering just what that mother is doing to shut that toddler up and what the hell has parenting come to anyway? Then, no matter how they call the plane, whether it's small children and elderly first, first-class first, last ten rows first, cool guys in Italian suits first, no matter how they call it, everyone gets up and gets in line at once. There's nothing uglier than the sight of a healthy, thirtyish business man cutting off some poor elderly woman with a walker to get a better place in the line to get in the line to get on the plane.

Don't worry, everyone there is faster and more cunning than you.

So there you are the at the end of said line. And you wait. And you wait some more in that tube-tunnel thing. And you wait again when you're actually on the plane while Phil from Wisconsin crams his clubs in the overhead compartment (go ahead and slap him in the back of the head when he's not looking. Tell him I told you to do it). Anyway, you do all this and, sure enough, some joker boards just as they close the door and you have to get back up when he takes his place in the window seat in your row. Wait! Quit cursing this guy. BE THIS GUY! This guy is still smiling. And he managed to plunk Phil in the shoulder with his duffel bag. Do this.

Finally, let's face it, if you're in the terminal long enough, you will either have to eat (see the airport parking cost rule) or pee, which... just forget it.

The only factor that may wreak havoc with Rule #3 is Rule #4.


Rule #4 - Check Everything
That's right, you heard me. Do NOT carry anything on the plane with you. Remember Phil? His other allotted carry-on is his microwave. Invariably.

Anything you bring on the plane will either be crushed beyond recognition in the overhead, or will have to go under the seat in front of you. If you are over four-foot-eight, this will be a problem.

Rule #4 goes hand in hand with Rule #5.


Rule #5 - Rid yourself of all metal before going through the metal detector
This should go without saying, and I'm telling you this for your own good. Airport security being what it is these days, there isn't much room left for guessing. A friend of mine (who is still in therapy for this) had to go get naked in front of a fat detective one time. It wasn't pretty. And fellas, the security folks aren't that precision-conscious with the hand held thingy. Danger is imminent.


Rule #6 - Vacuous Reading Material
Choose something that will fit your IFP, something that will look good on your lap. Just one thing. You're not going to get the subtleties of Chaucer or Thoreau on a Fokker filled with commuters and tourists. Get something stupid. SPIN is especially good for flight-lit. Plus, there's always the danger with SPIN of turning to a full-page photo of a naked man or woman in a perfume ad. You will be next to a priest or someone who looks suspiciously like one of your aunts when this happens. It's like an adventure. For tamer trips, get Entertainment Weekly. They hate Keanu Reeves too, just like you. If you want to look hip, try Wired or, if somebody cool is on the cover (good luck), grab a Rolling Stone. Don't read that though. It will rot your brain.


Rule #7 - Lie
This is where the IFP comes into full play. I hate people who talk to me on planes. I've flown probably two-hundred times in my life, and I've never, not once, sat next to a pretty girl. Never. It's something karmic. Usually I'm next to some laptop guy or some old bat with a horrid, phlegmy cough. When this happens (it will), use your IFP to either pep-up or shut down potential conversation.

"So what do you do?"

Pep-up - "I'm on leave from Boston General. You know, they call you the youngest surgeon on the staff and they flaunt you in the board rooms but then you show up drunk for one quad-bypass and..."

Shut down - "I design the SDK that makes up the OOP that adds VBX functionality to DDLBs on VB for 95."

Pep-up - "I test fly F-16s. You know, I've been on this plane five minutes and I've already counted a dozen things these punks are doing wrong."

Shut down - "Would you like to increase your earning potential just by using fantastic, affordable quality products?"

Pep-up - "I'm (Insert the famous person you look the most like here)."

Come on. Like you're ever going to see these people again. Do it just to see if they'll politely believe you.


Rule #8 - Peanuts Still Suck
For some reason, peanuts have always been served on airplanes (Author's Note: I was going to research why this is. Really. I was. But then I decided I didn't feel like it). Sure, there were flirtations with cashews and almonds, but, for the most part, it's always been peanuts.

My conspiracy theory goes something like this: There is a certain synergy between peanuts and altitude (or maybe recycled air) that make peanuts seem appetizing and even appealing as they're being served to you in mid-flight. You may want to cut this part of the article out and save it in your wallet or purse for reference:

Don't eat the peanuts.

They're terrible. They haven't changed. And you'll taste them until liftoff of your return trip, which is, of course, twenty minutes before you will be compelled to eat them again.


Rule #9 - Don't Ever Sleep
Do everything possible to stay awake unless the plane is empty and it's very late. Sure, you may be able to sleep a dozen, maybe twenty times before "The Humiliation," but it will happen. I polled a few of my friends for their best stories. Theirs as well as one of mine, appears.

*A beautiful, young female friend of mine, well accomplished in her field, relates a story of this time when she had had an awful, tiring day, was just a bit stuffed up, and fell asleep on the plane with her head down forward and drooling "nonstop for the duration of the flight... what seemed like gallons" into her lap.

*An older and, might I say, very distinguished friend of mine tells this story where he's kind of dozing and the plane flies into a thunderstorm. At one point, the plane gets shaken very hard and, as my friend is jarred back into consciousness, he realizes he has emitted an ear-splitting, "girly" scream.

*I once had an entire subconscious conversation about my jail-time (?) with some nice grandmother from Orlando. I've never been to jail. I have, however, been to Orlando.


So there you have it, kids. Stick to these rules. Memorize them if you fly frequently. Just like any other of life's experiences, if you do it right, it can be joyous. It's almost worth the $600 - $700 for a cross country ticket and all that time spent waiting and cramped in a system of travel that was really designed for cargo.




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