Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Airline Evil Eye

I hate flying, but it’s not due to fear. Flying today is like spending money to sit in a gulag for 14 hours. (Which is how long my normally 4-hour trip home actually took me recently. At least Greyhound has the decency to tell you it will take 14 hours and you’ll stop in 22 cities you don’t want to stop in, although you’ll probably sit next to a convicted felon who hasn’t showered since two weeks ago Tuesday.)

But okay, I admit, I do have some superstitions. I know the drive to the airport is statistically more dangerous than the flight. Yet I can’t quite rid myself of what I consider potential omens.

During my last trip, as I left the airport restaurant, the waitress said, “Have a safe flight.”

I looked at her closely. What did she mean by that? Once I get to the airport and go through security, it’s out of my hands; I hope she says that to every flight crew that walks by. Then I remembered I had stiffed her. I ran back and gave her $3; I didn’t want my final moments on a death-spiraling plane to go like this:

Passenger #1: What do you mean you stiffed her? Don’t you know that kind of karma can carry over to our flight?

Me: Well, I did have to ask twice for salsa. And she never refilled my water.

Passenger #2: So you’re satisfied with that giant stuffed burrito as your last meal?

Me: (Burp.)

On a normal flight, even if I haven’t witnessed any omens, I’ll usually mentally write my obituary just in case. This can be a very useful exercise at any time because it forces to you to weigh your life. After running down the pros and cons, you can then decide if a plane crash would be right for you.

While sitting at the gate, I’ll watch the pilot make his inspection as he walks around the plane outside. This usually leads to me thinking, “He sure is spending a lot of time looking up at that wing. He must see something. If the wing falls off during the flight, at least I’ll know why.” Or conversely, “Man, he sure walked around the plane really fast. I bet he missed something.” Either way, I then cross myself.

If I miss a connection due to weather delays, instead of looking for a ticket counter to change my flight, I look for TV crews that might be tracking me down because the plane I was supposed to be on crashed. Then when I don’t see the TV reporters, I start to think that I’ve been bumped to a flight that’s going to crash instead. I’ll be the sorry footnote on page 3: “if only he had gotten to his first connection on time.”

I always wonder about the pilots. Some of them don’t like to talk at all to the passengers during the flight. I assume they are either focused squarely on flying safely, or drunk, or asleep. Then there are the pilots who practically serenade you through the flight. I wonder how they react when the plane goes into a nosedive. Will they still be calm and collected? Will they be screaming? Will they still be giving us updates from the flight deck? “Well, folks on the right you can see the Grand Canyon. Look quickly because it’s approaching really, really fast.”

Several years ago I was en-route to my annual golf trip. Because of weather, my flight was canceled and I had to fly out the next day. Normally this would cause me to look over my shoulder for TV reporters; however, I got moved up to first class for the next day’s flight so I started thinking about free wine and Scotch instead. The next morning, as I sat in Seat 1A, the plane made its final approach then suddenly increased speed and veered sharply up and to the right. “I can’t believe it,” I thought, “my first time in first class, and I’m going to die. And here in first class we’ll hit the ground first!”

My next thought was, “Those golfing bastards better not continue the golf trip without me. I would not have wanted it that way. I would like a Viking funeral at the minimum and for everyone to permanently give up golf in my honor.”

The pilot then came on the intercom and said he had to abort the landing because another plane was still on the runway. So I ordered another Scotch.

The second time an incident like that happened, I was on my way to Las Vegas. We were probably no more than 200 feet off the ground when the plane picked up speed and aborted the landing. I realized what had happened even before the pilot told us. But this time I thought much more rationally: with the twenty-minute fly-around delay, is the airline going to reimburse me for those lost minutes of gambling? I very well could have hit a royal flush in that timeframe.

But then dark thoughts crept back in: how awful would it be to crash on the second landing attempt after the first abort? What are the odds?

I guess I should just stop thinking and find a good book to read while I travel. But then again, deep down I want to be the person that says as the plane goes into a tailspin toward the ocean, “Ha! I knew it! The pilot didn’t do his inspection right, I didn’t see the gas truck fuel the plane, the TSA inspector scolded me for locking my luggage, the gate agent moved me to a middle seat, the bartender gave me a vodka martini instead of gin then forgot to wish me a safe trip, the book store didn’t have change for a ten, I forgot to pack the green jacket, I left my cell phone on, and the dog didn’t eat his breakfast. With all of those omens, this was bound to happen!”

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