Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I took a plane, I took a plane for you. And I was all yellow (bellied).

Lie to me, captain, lie to me!!

For a guy who loves traveling, I really hate flying.

Every time I'm on a plane, I think, "Who built this plane?" The answer: "Men. Men built this plane."

Then, I wonder: "Who built my VCR at home?" Same answer: "Men."

My VCR doesn't work - why should the plane? "Lemme offa this thing!"

I first started being a jittery flyer on a trip to New York City a number of years ago. We hit one of those famed "air pockets" and the plane dropped in mid flight. My joke: "the plane dropped 100 feet, and the s**t in my pants dropped 120 feet."

But it was scary: flight attendants flying around the cabin, people screaming, dogs barking - the whole shebang. When I got off the plane, I asked the flight attendant how far we "fell."

"I don't know, but it was pretty impressive," she said. I should say so.

On the flight home, I nervously waited to hit an air pocket again - which, of course, never happened, because it's so rare. I must've looked scared when we had a bit of turbulence, because a helpful Air Canada attendant leaned over and said, "Eet ees only ze air," in her charming French Canadian accent.

(As anyone who has seen Bon Cop, Bad Cop knows, the English Canadian has to be an uptight dipstick, and the French Canadian has to be a relaxed rogue. So all cultural stereotypes were in check, and I was happy to play my role.)

Still, it was hard to shake that feeling of helplessness, especially given that we Canadians still think of planes as "giant metal birds," applauding something as mundane as another successful landing in Cleveland.

I've slowly gotten less jittery over time, mostly because it's embarrassing to be white knuckling it over turbulence, as the little granny next to me knits away, like nothing's going on.

"Don't you understand, old woman - we're about to crash!" isn't generally met with a lot of positive reinforcement.

(Nor is the classic line from the Watchmen: "What you don't realize is...I'm not locked in here with you people. You're locked in here with meeeeee!")

I thought I might get over it by reading this book, which actually scared me more. "Oh, so turbulence only causes some planes to crash," isn't exactly the most comforting thought.

So, the last time I flew, I did what I had to do to get over it: I embraced the irrational fear by taking it to the level of the absurd:

"Well, I'm going to die," I told myself. "Goodbye world. Goodbye friends. Goodbye loved ones. Goodbye cruel world. Goodbye new Bothwell Cheese location at the airport. Goodbye blue sky. Goodbye Miss American Pie. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye, Von Trapp Family."

You get the idea: I made my peace. And...I lived to see another day. Yes! Life rules!

"I'm going to die!" followed shortly by "Hmmm...the plane landed safely...", repeated often enough, seems to do the trick eventually.

New seat configuration

But, today, I saw something else that might help in the Boston Globe: a new airline seat configuration that would allow me - and you - to travel "in space in comfort."
"(Emil Jacob) came up with the "step seat principle." It involves elevating alternate rows of seats, from one to five steps above the cabin floor, to give passengers more room to lean back in economy class and enough space in business class to lie down, either by sliding their legs under the seat in front of them or stretching out in pods stacked on top of each other - no sweater on the floor required."
I've often wondered how much of the mental discomfort we feel when we fly is actually a manifestation of the physical discomfort we feel being crammed into the middle seat between strangers, knees propped up against the passenger's seat in front of us, unable to get up until the flight is over - full bladder be damned.

Couldn't all of that turbulence be put to better use by rocking us to sleep instead of up and down? It would bring a whole, new positive spin to the term "airplane crash." Er...I hope.

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