Ah, ‘tis the season for holiday travel. And I, for one, am greatly looking forward to the new, full-body pat-downs at airport security. You want to run a metal-detector over my nether parts? Please, be my guest. While you’re at it, feel free to rifle through my toiletry bag and dismantle my laptop. A strip-search? Sure, go right ahead. Knock yourself out.
Combining highly invasive security measures with the odd grope is just fine by me. I’m one of the most anxious fliers in recorded history. Though I take planes frequently, they make me incredibly nervous – and bring out my very worst behavior. I become rude and needy and compulsive and insane. I am not proud of this.
But being an air passenger is a total relinquishment of control. Is anybody out there really okay with this?
Whenever I fly, I experience an overwhelming urge to make everything around me as pre-measured and processed as one of those little airline meals.
Maybe it’s because a friend of mine was killed on Pan Am Flight 103. Maybe it’s because I knew people in the Trade Towers and on the planes on September 11th. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer – and thus capable of imagining limitless catastrophes. Maybe I’m just a nutjob.
But the instant I book a flight, I start obsessing: Is my seat on an aisle? If not, what happens if I get hemmed in by a sleeping passenger beside me? I could pee in my pants or die of a blood clot. In the event of an emergency evacuation, I’ll be trapped. I’ll either lose my legs or burn to death in the fuselage. I start trying to finagle ways to get a seat in the bulkhead. But the bulkhead tends to attract families with screaming, inconsolable children. Last time I had a bulkhead seat during Christmas break, it was like flying in a 767-foot tube of birth control. Half a dozen toddlers shrieked for the entire nine-hour trip. If the flight attendants could’ve offered in-flight vasectomies, trust me: they would’ve had takers.
Invariably, I get an aisle seat. But then, I start worrying about deep-vein thrombosis. And so, EVERY DAY UNTIL I’M SCHEDULED TO FLY, I CHECK THE SEATING CHART ON THE INTERNET TO SEE IF THE SEAT BESIDE ME REMAINS EMPTY. If not, I fanatically start trying to switch my selection so that I can eek out some extra legroom.
Relatives are out of work. Children are dying of AIDS and dehydration. There’s cholera in Haiti, economic unrest in Portugal and Greece, nuclear material being developed in Iran and North Korea, sex trafficking, trapped coal miners, climate change. But from the way I carry on about my fucking seat assignment, you’d think the fate of the world depended on it.
And I haven’t even gotten to the airport yet. Following the dictum “It’s better to be hanging out than freaking out,” I always arrive at least two hours early to steady my nerves. I linger at the security check-points, too, eying other passengers and second-guessing the security staff’s vigilance. Inexplicably, I also need to be the first person on the plane. And so, this holiday season you’ll see me. As soon as the announcement is made that a flight is ready to start boarding First Class passengers only, I’ll be that asshole who plants herself directly in front of the boarding gate even though she’s clearly booked in economy. I’ll be wearing yoga pants and Crocks, for Chrissake; I’ll have brought my own snacks. “Seat 46J” will be plainly visible on my boarding card, but I’ll stand there anyway hoping to pass as a Global Elite Member.
Of course, I’m even worse when there’s open, “general” seating. In Europe, the Amazing Bob and I often take Easyjet – not unlike Southwest Airlines in the USA — where you board according to when you’ve checked in, then grab any seat.
I believe it is imperative to nab the Exit Row.
Last time we flew Easyjet, we were the first ones at the gate. Yet an announcement was made that people with “special needs” – i.e. passengers with disabilities, pregnant women, and the elderly – were to be given priority. I practically had a seizure. All these limpers and waddlers got to board ahead of me, and they took FOR-EVER. Finally, Group One was told we could proceed. Many of the “special needs” passengers, I noticed, were still taking their time on the tarmac, so I strode past them, hopped nimbly up the gangway, and claimed the row with the comforting escape hatch and extra-extra legroom. Only once I settled in did I realize that my husband was no longer beside me. He didn’t arrive for another 10 minutes, in fact, well after everyone else had boarded. And oddly, he seemed upset.
“What’s wrong?” I said. “Look! I got us the exit row!”
“Yeah,” he said, “And you pushed past three pregnant women and a paraplegic in the process.”
“But pregnant women and paralytics aren’t even allowed in the Exit Row,” I said. “How is that even relevant?”
Bob stared at me. “From hereon in, I’m going to give you a report card on your traveler behavior,” he said.
My husband knows me all too well. If there’s anything I love even more than being the first one on an airplane, getting an exit row, or a strip search, it’s grades. They are so reassuring.
Unfortunately, my husband told me that as an air passenger, I’ve been averaging a “D.” But this means there’s room for improvement – and as we all know by now, I’m a gal who likes her room.
And so, I stretched out my legs, donned my noise-canceling headphones, inflated my terry-cloth neck-pillow, and arranged my People magazines, lip balm, booties, granola bars, ear plugs, antacid, water bottle, Ipod, and aspirin carefully in the seat pocket in front of me. After takeoff, I pried my fingers from their death-grip on my husband’s forearm and exhaled. “Relax,” I said. “It’s all good.”
Once I’m airborne, it seems, I’m perfectly fine.
But until then, apologies to everyone – and happy holidays. Perhaps I’ll see you in the line for airport security. I’ll be that lunatic who’s cutting in front of you.