On the Art of Flying


It’s always a mad dash: grab the bag, the suitcase, the purse, the pillow, the jacket that you won’t need, the keys, the travel mug. You race to the taxi. He hasn’t even turned off his engine, but the pressure rages in you like jet fuel. Everything goes in the trunk. Oops, except that bag. He slams the trunk shut and you hurry to the door. You sit down, buckle up. You wonder where your driver is from. You ask. He says Boston. Of course, you say, and you shut up. You wonder how many people have sat in this same seat. How many of them asked the same question. And how many of them forgot something. Did you forget something? A sudden panic: your ticket? Your passport? Your cell phone? Your stomach churns as you dig through stuffed bags. But then — but then you find them, right where you’d put them.

The airport approaches and he negotiates the lanes with a reckless precision to rival NASA. He almost clips a bumper. Actually, he did clip a bumper. Ah, well, no one said anything. He dives in front of another taxi. You cling to the door tightly. Finally, he parks. You sigh. But then, all too soon you and your bags are on the curb. You pay him, tip him, ignore the scratches on his yellow paint. The sign above you says “Such and Such Airlines.” You swallow hard as the taxi pulls away; you are truly, completely going. As you prop your luggage like a Leaning Tower of Pisa on wheels, you realize you packed too much. Pull, tug, push, pant. Repeat.

You sigh at the sight of the check-in line. Everyone is flying somewhere at the same time. You check your watch, feeling rushed. You have three hours and forty-six minutes. Your taxi had ran a little late. The crowds are a zoo. Your mind is a circus. You’ll miss your flight. For one half second, you’ve got yourself convinced.

She’s traveling in those heels? And they’re obviously going to Hawaii, but the matching luau shirts are over the top. Why is her bag 62lbs? Doesn’t she realize that there is a line behind her? No, no, no, you whine: is she really going to repack right there?! Yes, yes she is. The stress grows. Three hours and forty-one minutes. You’ll never make it. But then you’ve reached the end and it’s your turn to check-in. You wonder why the counters are built so tall. You peek into the unpleasant eyes of the grumpiest clerk you’ve ever encountered. Maybe he’s nice in the break room. You feel like a child speaking to a principal.
You respond.
You oblige.
You heave both up onto the scale. 49.5lbs and 48lbs. You sigh with relief.
His machine clicks and prints; your bags disappear into the conveyor belt’s lair. You briefly pray that they make it. You packed your favorite jeans. They better make it, dammit! Not that you’ll actually need most of that stuff when you get where you’re going. But still.

Then, in a sudden whirlwind (in contrast to all that waiting you’ve done), he hands you your ticket. Your ticket! You’re truly going! The clerk points and mumbles obscure directions towards Security, but you’re so enthralled by your ticket and concerned about the safety of your passport and pressured by the growing line of travelers behind you — you don’t catch a word. That’s alright. Airports have signs for a reason. Besides, you think: who’s ever heard of someone getting lost en route to Security?!

The line is long, of course. You try to ignore the weight of your carry-ons digging into your shoulder. You try to ignore the screeching of the baby behind you. You try to ignore the Eager Beaver in front of you who has already stripped. You stand behind him — shoe-less, belt-less, jacket-less, clutching his electronics to his chest — for another twenty minutes.

Then comes the rush: two, no, three tubs on the stainless steel table. You wonder if they chose the material because slamming a wayward, traveling terrorist against stainless steel is more dramatic than against a laminate counter. You whip out the laptop, tablet, iPhone, spare change, and baggie of liquids, while also slipping off your shoes (the heaviest you own, of course) and extracting your arms from jacket sleeves. In your head, it is a synchronized dance for the wandering, a mating call to elite travelers, a secret code among flying brethren. In reality, it’s as uncoordinated as four-year-olds playing Twister. But at least you have hundreds of companions playing with you. The security guard reminds you that your sunglasses are a public hazard and need to be scanned. You toss them in the tub with your laptop — wrong. They go in with your jacket. Obviously.

You step into the high-tech body scanner. It spins. You wonder if someone can see you naked, like Breaking News told you. You wonder if it’s giving you cancer, like the internet told you. You wonder at how sad it is that we need so much security. You wonder if it’s effective.

Finally you begin to redress, noticing that Matching Hawaiian Shirts are having their carry-ons swabbed. You peer at them judgmentally and assume the worst. Terrorists, maybe. Drug dealers, likely. A crowd rushes past you — oh wait, that was a family reunion. A security guard squawks into his radio. A golf cart whizzes past, laden with geriatrics. You think, they have it easy. You have to use your own highly-functioning legs to drag your one-ton carry-ons all the way to your gate. Your backpack alone has a dozen books in it. It’s not your fault that books weigh so much. You’re grumpy. You’re sweaty. You check your watch as you re-fasten it to you wrist. Two hours and fifty-eight minutes. And to think that you were worried about missing your flight!

But now what?

You order a coffee. And then a hot dog. And then a water bottle and a sandwich for the flight. And then you put $38.62 on the counter and see your life savings consumed by a cash register. Worse? It all tastes pretty bland.

You shift your baggage to a semi-comfortable leather bench by a window. You watch the planes take off and land. The little people below are working, cogs in a wheel, moving with purpose. You note what an odd color neon yellow is. You wonder if the man directing planes ever messes up, or if it is a fairly fail-safe career. You wonder how strong the luggage lifters actually are; maybe they’re just good at looking muscular. Maybe it’s a contouring make-up trick from Pinterest. Then you get tired at wondering things and wonder when your plane will arrive.

You connect to the Wi-Fi. You people-watch your fellow passengers. Three, four, five babies. One kid is already crying; one mom is already crying. Six businessmen, two businesswomen. Judging by their designer bags and Louis Vuitton shoes, these two ladies are actually paid more than their male counterparts. Lucky them, you think. A basketball team, all over six feet tall. Hopefully their mile-long legs aren’t drilling into the back of your seat for the whole flight. Then again, you’d take knees over newborns any day. Most people look normal, all look disappointed with their half-eaten meals, and a few forgot to tie their shoes after Security. You watch one fall asleep and a handful get up to stand by the gate. Impatient suckers. But maybe you should go stand with them.

Finally! The plane pulls in. The flight disembarks. A voice bellows through the airport, calling for First Class, then for Priority, and then for the Poor Cattle Who Have the Rest of the Seats. Everyone lines up, bags in tow, shuffling along. The attendant has brilliantly white teeth and gently asks how you are. She doesn’t really care about your response, but you try to make her laugh so that you can see those teeth again. They must be fake…right? She rips your ticket. You pass through the door, the wide hallway, the small hallway. You cross the sliver of light between the ramp and the plane. Before you is a smiling, cheery flight attendant who points you towards the back of the plane, and you pretend to gratefully accept her directions. But seriously: where else could you go?

Ah! Row 27. You’ve mastered how to count. You shove your first bag into the tiny, overhead bin, and then you cram your Backpack Library under the seat in front of you. You realize that your sandwich is completely unreachable, but you bluff nonchalance and tell yourself that you’ll get it mid-flight. (But you don’t). A stranger sits down next to you, eats a salmon sandwich, and makes small talk about politics. You smile politely and wish that the cute Australian in Row 26 had sat beside you instead. And then you watch as every passenger finds a seat, and the engines begin to hum, and the pilot comes on the intercom. The plane jerks backwards, then rolls. You breathe deep. One type of stress melts away like summer rain and is replaced with adrenaline. You smell the cleaners and salmon and scent of wet feet, and you hear your neighbor flip through the Emergency Pamphlet. A woman is teaching you how to buckle your already-buckled seat belt. The Neon Yellow Director Man is now directing your flight. Again, you wonder if he’s ever messed up – but today is a good day for him. Your plane makes it to the runway without pause.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Flight 4321. Please sit back and relax…”

Gravity pulls on your core as the roaring engines bring the plane to life. You’re up. You’re off. And you smile, because for the first time today, you know you did something right.



3 thoughts on “On the Art of Flying

  1. Ahhh Emily, I felt I was right there with you. Difinently send it on to a travel magazine. It is a fun read and makes us weary travelers feel like a kinsman tribe. Grammy

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