My air travel survival guide


(O’HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Chicago, Ill) In our continuing effort to serve the reading public, provide public service information, and fill up ten column inches, we present our first annual, Airline Survival Guide.

Many would-be passengers fear flying because of those disturbing news pictures of melted, mangled metal, but take comfort in the fact that you’re less likely to be killed in an airplane than traveling to the airport in your own car. (Now, don’t you feel better already?)

Check for the best of ten different prices

The first challenge will be getting a ticket that doesn’t require maxing out your credit card, refinancing your home, or selling a major organ. Whenever I call the airline reservation people, I’m almost certain I can hear the faint sound of “The Wheel of Fortune” spinning and Pat announcing, $500, $150, or $300. You can make ten calls and get ten prices.

That’s why I always make my own reservations on one of the many Internet travel sites. And staying over a Saturday night can save you hundreds of dollars.

Choose your seat based on your particular phobias or fetishes

The window seats Not only can you enjoy a great view of the wing or engine, you won’t have to get up ten times to let out the passenger sitting by the window. He or she obviously has one of those bladder control problems that make up 75 percent of all TV advertising. (Don’t marketers realize that if potential customers have that problem, they’re not going to be sitting in front of the TV during the commercial?) And, best of all, you’ll avoid the ferocious food and drink carts that prowl the aisles mauling kneecaps and elbows.

The aisle seat I’m claustrophobic, probably due to my little brother locking me in a steamer trunk when I was 12, but that’s probably something I should be telling a therapist rather than you. I like the freedom to “move about the cabin” and the ability to have leg room—for one leg.

The middle seat Unless you’re into bondage or masochism, never, ever sit in the middle seat. The few times I’ve gotten stuck there due to flight changes, I’ve been wedged between either professional wrestlers or people on their way to a Weight Watchers convention. Hell will be sitting on the tarmac in August without air conditioning in the middle seat!

Pack for survival

Pack everything you need to survive for two or three days in your carry-on bag and never let it out of your sight. Include deodorant, toothbrush, razor, extra skivvies, and any emergency needs such as prescription drugs and dark chocolate. (My bag also includes earbuds, a carabiner, miniature flashlight and Altoids.) Take it from someone whose luggage has seen the world—without him. You’ll also want to pack bottled water if you’re going overseas, south of the border, or to Hinkley, California. If it’s a business trip, put in your proposals, presentation notes, and other essentials. And always keep your laptop handy. (Right now, I have a six-hour delay at “O’Hell,” so am making good use of my time by writing my weekly newspaper column.)

Always order water from the drink cart. It quenches thirst better than carbonated drinks, helps fight off jet lag, and dries faster than Diet Coke when the flight attendant spills it in your lap. But don’t drink so much that you have to use the Fisher Price lavatory with the toy toilet. Lavatory, incidentally, is French for telephone booth.

“Do the voices in my head bother you?”

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require that each flight must have at least one screaming child, two or three passengers with carry-ons the size of lavatories, and numerous people who seem to think you are dying hear all about a) their grandchildren, b) their latest operation, or c) an exciting opportunity in multilevel marketing. Of course, all three types usually are assigned to my row.

To avoid talkative strangers I’ve often been tempted to respond with, “No hablo Ingles” or “Excuse me, do the voices in my head bother you?” Instead, I try to look preoccupied by typing away on my lap top computer. Oh, no, the woman next to me is pulling pictures out of her purse. I don’t dare look to see if they are her grandchildren or gall stones, so must keep typing. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown dog . . . .

Despite all the jokes, airline food is actually pretty tasty. (Then again, three weeks in India may have permanently seared my taste buds.)

Keep your seat belt fastened, know where the exits are located

If you need the flight attendant’s instruction to fasten your seat belt, you probably shouldn’t be out of the house unattended. Sunny afternoon flights can be a bit bumpy due to upward air currents or, if it’s a tiny commuter plane, swooping down to spray a field of soybeans. So, keep your seat belt fastened and simply think of the flight as a 30,000-feet tall roller coaster going 350 mph. Cool!

Do observe the flight attendant’s advice to locate your nearest exit, which may be behind you. I actually count the rows. Just in case!

Avoid the so-called “Customer Service” desk

If your connecting flight gets cancelled, don’t join the murderous mob storming the so-called “Customer Service” desk. Simply grab your cell phone and call the 1-800 reservation line, and demand that if you don’t get to your destination a bomb will go off in ten minutes. Seriously, just ask for the next available flight. By the time the rest of the crowd has elbowed and eye-gouged its way to the service desk, you’ll have another flight reservation.

The ticket agent is your BFF

This is important! Always be polite to ticket agents. (Never suggest what they can do with the cancelled flight.) Nuclear missile officers may have the power to destroy the earth eight times over, but ticket agents have the power to get you home before you run out of clean underwear.

Thank you for choosing to read this column. When future plans call for reading, we hope you’ll choose Buh bye. Buh bye. Buh . . . .

Copyright © 2001 James N. Watkins

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