Seattle, Washington On the Subject of Air Travel

It would be stupid for me to claim the traveling I’ve done has made me an expert on the subject. By most standards, I’m actually terrible at it. But there are a few things I’ve learned, and those things are fresh in my mind after taking four flights in the last five days, totaling 17 hours in the air. For lack of anything else to say today – or at least anything it’d be prudent for me to talk about – I’m going to launch into it.

1) How about we start with the real gobsmacker? Here’s the big secret I’ve figured out. From what I’ve seen, no one else who’s ever boarded a plane is privy to this knowledge. Ready?…

When the plane stops moving, you don’t have to get up.

There is absolutely no reason to leap into the aisle, be the first to grab your carry-on, then cram for the door. You’re just hurrying so you can wait somewhere else. Nevertheless, this is what 99% of passengers do on every plane I’ve been on, in every country I’ve visited. It seems to be some strange impulse originating from the approximate level of consciousness that zombies operate on.

Here’s what I do: Nothing. If I’m reading, I keep on reading. If I’m sleeping, I keep on sleeping. Yes, it freaks out the flight attendants. But that’s okay. When the aisles are clear, I casually stand up, stretch, sort my belongings out, and eventually, quietly, languidly, deplane.

You wanna know what I do next? I usually go to the bathroom – if even just to splash water on my face.

After that? I look for a newsstand, maybe a place to sit down and get a drink. Any kind of distraction.

And then? Yes, I go to baggage claim. And if I’ve wasted enough time, I get there just as my bag is coming onto the carousel. If I haven’t dawdled long enough, I do some laps to get the lead out while I wait.

Even when I don’t have to claim baggage, I still follow this lackadaisical policy. It makes the whole ordeal more pleasant.

Granted, when customs is involved, it’s a different story. In that situation, I grudgingly advise bolting for the exit as it will get you to the immigration line before it swells up.

2) Checking in online before going to the airport. This seems to be something airlines have only recently started doing. Why they do it, I have no idea. Isn’t the whole point of checking in to make sure you’re actually there? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if you check in from home? It makes no sense to me, but it saves waiting in line and gives you much better odds of getting a good seat.

3) Which brings me to seats. This one isn’t so much a tip as a gripe. Can we resolve that the unfortunate sap who gets crammed in the middle of a row is implicitly entitled to at least one arm rest? This should go without saying. But most people are selfish and evil…at least on airplanes.

4) If you’re big enough and you can remember, press your knees against the back of the seat in front of you for at least the first ten minutes after the seat belt sign turns off. If the person tries to recline, lock your legs in place and hold firm. Eventually they’ll decide it’s broken and give up.

5) Requesting the Emergency Exit row is not a bad thing. Window seats are no good because the door usually juts into your leg room, but the row is usually longer than all the others and getting an aisle seat can be the next best thing to first class. And as for your additional responsibilities in the event of a non-fatal crash, you will be one of about eight people in the history of commercial air travel with the opportunity to open one of those doors and slide down that inflatable ramp. Enjoy the privilege.

6) Noise-reduction headphones. Worth the money.

7) Until someone rules that laptops and Game Boys are not interfering with navigation, books will continue to beat gadgets. With gadgets you lose about 15 minutes at the beginning and end of flights, which on shorter flights can be a good chunk of the time you spend seated. I go for the puzzle books they sell in airport newsstands. They’ve got some brilliant time-suckers in those things, including the all-time greatest time-sucker ever invented: Sudoku.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll fix this and add more later, but right now I’m tired. I mostly just wanted to put something up to replace my previous post, which looking at it now seems pompous and self-involved. I can be that way. I’m not quite as humble about the attention I’ve gotten as I’d like to be. Sorry about that.