The Cameron Column #55
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      With the economy booming from Al Gore's fund raising efforts, more and more Americans are enjoying the experience of flying on our national airlines. I use the word "enjoy," as in, "The man enjoyed having the walrus lie on top of him," or, "the crowd enjoyed their food poisoning."

      Flight enjoyment begins with the "pre-boarding process." Literally translated, this means "to board the aircraft prior to boarding the aircraft." First class passengers are invited to preboard so they can settle in and practice their smug expressions for when you and the rest of the Flintstones struggle past them to join the crowd of second class citizens in the back. Families with small children also preboard, so that by the time the plane is loaded their kids will have used up all their toys and be ready for the first volley of shrieking.

      I don't preboard, but I am one of the last people left on the planet who checks his luggage. I do this to insure my suitcase will arrive in Des Moines exactly at the same time as I land in Cleveland. Everybody else lugs their stuff onto the aircraft and crams it on top of your suitcoat in the overhead bin. Much grunting and isometric exercise accompanies this effort, along with comments like "I think...grunt...I can just...grunt...oh no," and, "I hope my chicken will be okay up there."

      Once everyone is seated and you have lost the battle for the armrests with the people squeezed in on either side of you, the plane will roll about thirty yards and then stop on the pavement for an hour. This is called "preheating the passengers."

      During take off I usually find it helpful to scream "OH MY GOD WE'RE GOING TO CRASH!" a couple of times, though I've sort of given this up since they started issuing pepper spray to the flight attendants. To relax, I put on the fake headphones and listen to the pilot's dialogue over the radio.

      You have to admit, despite the fact that the take off is the most dangerous part of the trip, those guys up front are pretty level-headed about it. Their conversation usually goes like this:

      PILOT: "Well, I see that we've got a fire in the port engine, what do you know."

      CO-PILOT: "I'm bored."

      PILOT: "Me too. I'm so bored I can't keep my eyes open."

      CO-PILOT: "Oh yeah? Well I'm so bored I'm going to unbuckle my seatbelt and lie down."

      PILOT: "Well I'm so bored I'm going to open the window and crawl out on the wing."

      CO-PILOT: "You'd better do it on the starboard wing because the port wing just exploded."

      PILOT: "Ha Ha."

      After take off, the passengers settle in for a series of public service announcements. You are invited to hold your seatbelt over your head and buckle it, which I have always found to be impossible. You are told that in the event of a "sudden depressurization" (meaning, a hole opens in the side of the airplane and sucks everyone out) little plastic hats will fall from the ceiling and bean you on the forehead. What, to make the depressurization more interesting? Then you're informed that food and beverage service will begin just as soon as the flight crew stops laughing over the fact that people are really going to eat it.

      Everyone makes fun of airline food, possibly because it is inedible. I have always harbored an anonymous affection for it, however, mainly because it allows me to play the game "guess my meat." My favorite airplane meal is the breakfast special: Cheese Extrusion Plus a Piece of Something Which May Once Have Been Alive. I also enjoy Cobweb Pita and Fajitas De Yuck.

      Landings are usually characterized as "uneventful" (meaning, no flames.) To me, though, falling out of the sky at 200 miles an hour and hitting the pavement is extremely eventful, and I usually can't stop weeping for a couple of days afterward. I feel like everyone should be pointing at me and whispering: "Look, that's the guy who was FLYING."

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Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1997
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