Let's Fly: How to Survive Air Travel
This is how you survive the airport: Arrive early. Arrive early? Sounds simple. It is-let me show you. Arrive so early that a friend will text you, What R U sixty years old? No, you're not sixty, you're much older, because the wisdom of the early arrival seems to have eluded even most sixty-year-old travelers.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
Authorities recommend arriving two hours before international flights. I say four. Get there four hours before your flight. You are a hundred and fifty years old. Your friends laugh at you. Have patience.
Arrive early and move through the airport like the Dalai Lama. You are in no rush. All obstacles are taken in stride, patiently, with a smile. Approach the nearly empty check-in counter. Walk up and say, I'm a bit early but I'm here to check in to ... Marvel at their surprise and then their generosity. Suddenly you are always able to get an exit row or bulkhead seat. Suddenly, sure, they can slip you into Business. Suddenly tickets that are supposedly unchangeable, cannot be modified, are, after a few calls, some frowns, upbeat goodbyes, specially modifiable for you. This is what happens when there is no one behind you in line to check in.
Move then to security. Fear not the nonsensical theater. The half-gaze of those supposedly looking for murderers, jihadists. Transformers was CRAP, one yells. Fear not the bottle checks, dreaded liquid checks. Sorry, sir, 3.2 oz, finger wag, we cannot abide, checks. Fear not holding up those behind you in line as you unlace your shoes, remove your belt, disrobe various layers in the name of flight safety, in the name of keeping shoe bombs and belt bombs and baby milk bombs from dropping planes from the sky one after another. Fear none of this because the line is nearly empty. The queue sparse. The rush yet to hit.
Male opt-out. You know, sir, these machines are safe now. I know, but that's what you told me last year with the old machines. You know, sir, you get more radiation on the flight. Oh, do I? Well, then, I better be sure to cut it down any chance I get.
Male opt-out. Take deep breaths as they yell or whisper the words into the air. Much like apps, there is no sense in opt-out delegation. You feel no stress. You are the Dalai Lama. You are hacking the airport by arriving early, knowing that all the work you could have done at home?-?the emails or writing or photo editing?-?can be done at the airport. Just a bit farther.
Male opt-out. Back of the hands on sensitive areas. Most sensitive part of the hands on the most sensitive areas? You don't know if this makes you any more comfortable. Pat-downs sometimes fast, like gibberish. Anyone with explosives hidden about their testicles, below their giant breasts, would have made it through. Pat-downs slow. Extra long, uncomfortably long right buttocks check. Doesn't matter. Time is on your side. Alright sir, no bomb residue, free to go, thank you.
Three hours or more until flight. Perfect. You find a bathroom. Your gait is soft, you pad gently, float across the carpeted terminal. You are in no hurry. You are the Dalai Lama. Urinate with a hitherto unknown calm. You made it. So much time to spare. You've survived the deceptive gauntlets
Next, scout. Scout the terminal. Walk its length. All of it. You have three hours. Look for the healthiest possible food. Does such a thing exist? It does, surprisingly. Sometimes. Not always, but often enough. Finding it requires patience. This you have. Make note of its location.
The next task is the most difficult step. You are looking for the CNN-free zone. The MSNBC-free zone. The blare-free, drone-free zone. The zone without the talking heads. A zone calm. The listen-to-your-thoughts zone. The get-work-done zone. The read-a-book zone. The just-let-me-sit-there zone. You're looking for the small corner of rationality in a world of nonstop tickers.
Appropriately enough, this quiet space, this neglected corner of the terminal, usually provides refuge to airport employees on break. In the same way you want to eat at the Indian restaurant full of Indians, you, too, want to hang out in the part of the terminal those native to the environment find most comfortable.
Take a perch. Plug in your laptop. Smile to your uniformed comrades. They ignore you or give you disparaging looks. Do the work you would have done at home. Your flight leaves in hours. Break. Eat the healthy food. Board.
This is how you survive the plane:
You will balk. You will say, I cannot do that. But you must, I say. Of all the tricks I have developed over 13 years and one hundred plus international flights, no trick provides more pleasure per dollar, more comfort once you've landed than this trick. This trick I give to you gratis: the mask. Wait! Don't run away. Hear me out. The white mask, the trick of Japanese travelers for decades, handed out in Economy Plus and Business Class on All Nippon Airways, the universal symbol for bird flu, the surgeon's face armor. The mask's role is two-fold: protect you from the horror that is the air aboard airplanes, and create a microclimate for your nose and mouth.
They say the Dreamliner has a higher humidity (10%-15%) than your average plane (7%). Sure, and there are tiny shaded spots in the Gobi Desert that, too, have higher humidity than those spots in direct sunlight. Don't mean it's comfortable.
People will stare at the masked you. Concerned American women will ask if you're OK. Your British seat mate will shift uncomfortably. Simply lean over and offer him one, a mask. Smile. Remember, you are calm. You are the Dalai Lama. You have been Doing Work for hours while others worried their way through check-in and security. Smile (they'll see it in your eyes even if your mouth is covered). Always carry two masks for this purpose. To disarm. You are a missionary of the Church of Mask. Confidently spread your microclimate knowledge of personal humidity.
By arriving early you have a bulkhead seat or exit row seat
Chill on your laptop that plays midwestern thunderstorms through your noise-canceling headphones atop your earplugs.
Work a bit. Do the work that thrives on network disconnection. Write an article about surviving air travel. Cancel noise. Then wrap around your face a neoprene eye mask that looks like a bra for a small monkey. It places no pressure upon your eyes and creates a pitch-black seal. You look insane?-?your white mask, your monkey bra, your noise-canceling headphones, but it doesn't matter. You are satiated, filled with nourishing food; you have gotten your work done, and now you float in a personal outer space. An outer space that sounds like the summer in Wisconsin and feels just as humid within the nose and mouth thanks to your microclimate. You are on a plane but are not. You could be anywhere. You are untouchable. You are possibly the most insufferable traveler ever. You float and smile because you are the Dalai Lama.
This is how you survive air travel.
Let's Fly | Medium
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