I love to fly, and it shows. And I want everyone else to love flying as much as I do, because I really do think it’s great fun between the overpriced food courts and crazy-making non-stop cable TV news feeds in some departure lounges.
Here’s an example of just how blissed almost all air travel makes me.
A couple of years ago, en route from Copenhagen to Boston, my honey and I were stranded in Newark for several hours. We were SO CLOSE to Boston by then! We could have driven! Instead we sat next to a Rosetta Stone kiosk that instructed us to say, again and again, “Naranjas.”
“Naranjas,” we would announce in unison on cue and then dissolve into jetlagged laughter to the bewilderment of everyone around us.
“Naranjas,” the Rosetta Stone Spanish module would say in reply. Then we would bust up laughing all over again. I’m pretty sure we hadn’t slept in 24 hours.
I love this story because it illustrates how much I love air travel. I like the neck pillows and the hilariously bad movie selections without which I never would have seen “Tropic Thunder,” “The Notebook,” or “The Bridges of Madison County.” (Note: Do not self-induce terror by watching miserably sad romance movies on a plane when your sweetie lives far away!)
Except for watching sad films or a gruesome “Law and Order: SVU” on the piped in DirecTV, nothing can upset me when I’m waiting for or on a plane. I look at the taxiing jets on the runway or at the line of them in the sky, waiting to be waved in, and I feel an enormous sense of wonder and awe that we, as a civilization, conquered flight. And I get to partake!
I’m also not stupid enough to hate on the downsides. My honey is from another continent, so our relationship wouldn’t be feasible without planes. Moreover, I couldn’t easily visit my grandparents -- who live two full, non-stop days drive away according to Google Maps -- like I did this past weekend. Or travel for work, or plan to attend a friend’s wedding on the opposite coast without taking a week off. These convenient examples add up.
But if forced to pick, my three favorite things about air travel are:
1. Plane spotting. No, this isn’t technically part of my own air travel, but I think the entire culture around plane spotting is incredibly fascinating. I like to believe plane spotters are as mesmerized by planes as I am. Why else do they shoot photos and videos of planes taking off and landing? Seriously, have you ever ventured down the YouTube plane spotter videos rabbit hole?
Fun fact: Did you know that post-9/11, plane spotters helped uncover the practice of extraordinary rendition?
When I lived in Copenhagen, one of my favorite places to go was the Flight Grille, this weird townie outpost by the airport where they sell soft serve and hand-dipped ice cream, fish sandwiches and crinkle-cut fries. There’s a little playground for the kids, and there’s a particularly devoted group of guys with enormous camera lenses. They all appear to live nearby and congregate there every day to shoot the shit and track takeoffs and landings. After hours spent watching and listening to them, I’m convinced that if you want to understand another culture, you just need to observe local plane spotters.
2. Listening to air traffic control. On most United/Continental flights, you can tune into channel 9 for “From the flight deck,” the captain’s radio frequency. Listen for phrases like “clear visual confirmation” and words like “foxtrot” and “bravo.” Makes for fun bingo too!
At some point, I end up thinking about that terrifying story about the chronically crashing planes in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” while listening to the pilot say, “Two-ninety-two just cleared the runway” and feel ever so thankful that my first officer and co-pilot are actively communicating with the multiple control towers around them at all times.
3. Eating first by ordering the vegetarian meal. I’m not tryina be all “DON’T EAT ANIMALS,” because I don’t actually care what you eat. It’s just that after years of getting my piping hot “special” meal served first, I know how badass it is to dive into your lentils and rice before everyone else. And every omni I persuade to try this just for the quickness factor LOVES IT. Maybe you will too!
I’ll even dare to suggest that the veg-friendly meals are usually better than the dry chicken or slime-covered beef option. My partner isn’t an avowed vegetarian, but on every airline that offers complimentary meals, he orders the vegan option and is pleased without exception. How often do you love airplane food?
Last night, I had yet another exceptional flight, connecting in Houston on my way back to San Francisco from the Orlando airport. While grabbing a snack in the Texas terminal, we kept running into the same friendly couple who eventually asked where we live, what we do, and other pleasantries that seemed unusually familiar. By the end of the flight -- they were seated in front of us! -- we were exchanging numbers and agreeing to dinner in Oakland, halfway between our place in San Francisco and theirs in Union City. Magical!
Seriously, every aspect of air travel is awesome. What’s your favorite part?