In the game of air travel, I am the camel and every step of my journey is a straw that has the potential to break my back.
As a child, I did not like to travel by plane because I was scared I would die in a fiery crash. As an adult, I do not like to travel by plane because I am scared I will lose my mind. Specifically, I fear that my head might explode, like in a cartoon, or that I might rip it off my neck and drop-kick it into a display of Auntie Anne’s pretzel dogs.
It all begins with packing, which requires at least three days to identify clothes that are occasion appropriate, wrinkle-free, and capable of being folded to the thickness of a dollar bill. Regardless of the length of my trip, my clothes must fit within a single carry-on. I will not check bags, as I do not believe in paying for my luggage to have the pleasure of my company.
Moreover, as soon as that bag leaves my death grip, it is going to a destination other than mine. I refuse to fund a wild weekend in Vegas for my bag when it should be with me, counting chain restaurants in Dallas.
Next comes the exercise that justifies my college math class: calculating the time at which I must leave for the airport. This involves crunching numbers associated with departure time, traffic patterns, weather forecasts, security line obstacles, pre-boarding snacks, amount of work allocated for pre-flight window, and potential for lost tickets, a 2,376-car pile-up, a tsunami, salmonella poisoning, and/or a government shutdown.
After running my calculations by my husband, I fight with him about his lackadaisical attitude and waste valuable time, so I get in the car and arrive at the airport two to four hours before I really need to.
This gives me plenty of time to become a horrible person. Clutching my carry-on bag and my one personal item, I wedge myself into the seat at the gate that gives me the best view of the boarding lane and the waiting area. I like the challenge of seeing how many things I can find to hate within the confined space of my eyesight.
Let me share my successes:
There is no professional on the planet who has better mastered the art of ignoring than the gate agent. I’ve never actually seen one make eye contact with a traveler. Either the airline industry has found computers that require each letter to be typed 37 times before it appears on a screen, or gate agents are hired solely for their compulsive keyboard clicking and clacking.
From the safety of their rolling desk, they speak into their little microphones to deliver inspiring messages of incompetence: the airline overbooked the flight, there’s not enough room for carry-on bags, the inbound flight is on location for “Gravity II.”
A gate agent’s favorite words are “mechanical failure” and “I don’t know.” If you listen to any of those announcements backwards, they tell you “find a rental car.”
You sit and you wait. You spend $15 on a salad of limp lettuce, a single shaving of Parmesan cheese, and a rogue Skittle. You buy three magazines with a Kardashian on the cover. You spring for a chair massage so that when you fold into your seat, you only cramp up after hour three of your ground delay.
If you’re really lucky, your flight will board. Any further delay will be blamed on your failure to get out of the aisle. You will assume a seated position in which you are bent forward, as if in half-hearted prayer. Your elbow will become intimate with a stranger’s elbow. You will spend too much time wondering why the boarding process divides “premium access” customers from the dirty masses using a horizontal seat belt and a door mat. Is it another message that you should have driven?
If you’re really, really lucky, your flight will land. You will deplane. The straws will not have broken you. Your head will live to explode another day. Possibly the day of your return flight.