We were preparing to board our flight to Heathrow when news broke of a passenger being “subdued” on a Northwest flight to Detroit. The headline flickered across airport television screens. As the days passed, we watched the news unfold about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from a television in our London hotel, and prepared ourselves for an arduous return flight home.
Since no one was injured on that Northwest flight, I can be grateful to Abdulmutallab. He exploited US ineptitude, and, as a result, Mike, Anna, and I were repeatedly frisked and questioned along various checkpoints as we edged our way to our US-bound plane. I got the feeling, as we were sitting near the gate, that we were all checking each other out. “Does this person hate Americans?” “Is that guy hiding anything in his socks?” There was one woman, however, who was blithely buried in the Stephenie Meyer book New Moon, and could care less about international security. What was even better was that this woman looked to be in her 50s, so clearly lovelorn teenagers who turn into werewolves and vampires appeal to people who haven’t been teenagers in quite some time.
I truly hate flying. Yet, I love to travel, so I fly. Liesl Schillinger challenged Americans’ jitters about flying, arguing on New Year’s Day –the day we flew home–that their hunker-down mentality cost them the excitement of exploring new worlds. Perhaps a better understanding of other people’s worlds could even help reduce the anti-American sentiments that now form airline security measures.
Schillinger is right–we need to get over ourselves, which is why I suck it up and take a deep breath every time I step on to a plane. I used to take more than just a breath–I used to take Xanax, especially for the over-the-ocean flights. I’m comfortable with the notion of my plane slamming into a mountain or a field, but crashing into water unnerves me. I stopped taking Xanax after a flight from Havana to Cancun when the pilot “getting his cowboy on,” as Mike said, skimmed the tops of palm trees during the landing. The plane never felt out of control, but you did get the sense he could’ve descended earlier, forgot to, and had to zoom a little too low over the beaches to hit the runway at the right angle. I realized then that Xanax wasn’t going to take the edge off when the plane is flying like a crop duster. If my number is up, then a pill really isn’t going to help.
I now have my little boarding routine: I always touch the plane’s exterior and say a quickie prayer before the flight attendant greets me with her hyper-vigilant gaze. Fortunately, I’ve never been on a flight where anyone attempted to set anything on fire, threaten the flight crew and passengers, or even act crazy. I was on a flight from Birmingham to Dublin when the plane suddenly dropped and people aboard screamed. We had hit an air pocket over the Irish Sea. I couldn’t stop shaking until we were firmly on Irish soil.
But it’s the passengers, not the air pockets, that make air travel so dreadful. Perhaps if I could afford business class, it would be a different experience, but the fact is wedging yourself among 200 strangers who are cranky, thoughtless, opinionated, tired, hungry, and, possibly, anti-American, stinks. I suggested to Mike after our flight home from London that everyone should fly nude. That would take passenger attitude down a peg or two and make security checks more effecient. It might also motivate better diet and exercise habits. The flight crew could wear their uniforms, because airline uniforms command authority (think Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger). Plus, ever notice how relaxed nudists are? When you have nothing to hide, you’re a far more pleasant person.
Mike thought mandatory nudity was a tall order and might violate some, if not all, civil liberties, so he suggested passenger bathrobes –just enough to provide some privacy, while also giving the sense that you’re vulnerable to inspection and interrogation.
I like the bathrobe idea: you get a bathrobe when you go to the spa, so some might find receiving a bathrobe at airport check-ins relaxing; and you get a bathrobe when you get a mammogram, so it also signals scrutiny. It strikes the right balance.