Airline Travel Tips: Keeping an Eye Out for Villains, Heroes, and Boar Hunters

Last week, I flew across the country twice, and yes, it was a traumatic experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love flying. In fact, airplanes have been a lifelong passion for me. Starting with the first time my dad let me go up with one of his pilot friends, going through my years serving on board an aircraft carrier, and moving on to me getting my own pilot’s license in the 1990s, I’ve been an enormous aviation geek. It’s the boring parts of the flying process I can’t stand, the ones that don’t relate to Bernoulli’s Principle.

During this most recent stay in the belly of the airline beast—or at least somewhere within its esophagus—I found myself doing something interesting. Even before we left the terminal waiting area at Dallas/Fort Worth International, I was watching my fellow passengers, performing mental inventory, and making important decisions about them.

Then I realized that I always do this. I’ve just never acknowledged it until now.

I can’t be the only one who sizes up fellow airline passengers, though. After all, when your plane hypothetically crashes and you end up on an uncharted island, you want to know who’s going to have your back. Hypothetically. This sorting process probably goes back to my time in the navy, when every abandon ship drill forced me to make tough decisions about my shipmates, considering which ones would be good on a lifeboat versus who would most likely drag me to the bottom of the ocean.

Here are a few of the fellow flyers I considered: First, there was the family of ten, including Mom and Dad. The children had biblical names, all of the Old Testament variety—Micah, Daniel, Miriam, Rachel, Samuel, Aaron, and so on. I remember the kids’ names, by the way, because of the number of times the parents yelled them. Once the captain turned off the seat belt sign, those eight scamps spent their time running up and down the aisle, poking people, crashing into things, and falling down a lot. Not impressive in the least.

Just ahead of me were two young military gentlemen who alternated between sleeping, ordering Scotch, and holding farting contests. In the plus column, they had military training. On the other side, I had no way of knowing whether their love for Scotch and considerable flair for flatulence-on-demand would translate into any island-ready skills. For these two, I deferred judgment.

Next, I considered the mother and son sitting across the aisle from me. All I knew about them was a) they were dressed in matching wind suits, which, while being perfectly legal was still troubling, and b) she spent a decent amount of time berating our flight attendant for not having milk for her son. This was a big deal because, as the mom told anyone within shouting distance, her boy really liked milk and needed it right away. No matter what happened, I decided, these two were going to be the weakest links in any chain.

Last of all, there was me. Here are my positives: I’m okay at figuring out how mechanical things work, I used to be a firefighter, I have a good sense of direction, and I can pilot an airplane, as long as it isn’t a jet. Of course, I’d need a decent length of cleared runway, which could present a serious problem on a lush, vegetated island. (I’m not good with machetes, incidentally.)

Now for my negatives: I have a predilection for books, running water, and air conditioning, none of which are in ready supply on the typical desert island. In short, I enjoy a modern standard of living. Obviously, this negates all my good qualities and disqualifies me from being of any use to anyone in an emergency situation.

There were other passengers, but in the end, it seemed the only hope we had lay with our pilots and flight attendants. If the worst happened and we crashed, we passengers would end up having to depend on those folks’ problem-solving skills and delegating abilities. The only problem with that was the flight crew never seems to make it onto the island, at least not on television.

Based on my observations, I reached a sobering conclusion: If our flight from Texas to Colorado crashed on an island—despite the marked absence of an ocean between my origin and destination—we would be screwed big time.

These are the kinds of scenarios I run through when I travel. In case of an island-based emergency, who’s going to be our sociopathic villain? Who’ll be the brilliant but tortured surgeon, the drug-addicted bass player, or the rough-around-the-edges, revenge-seeking antihero? Which frequent flyer is the mysterious woman with a criminal past and heart of gold? Above all else, who’s going to go out into the jungle and kill us a boar? Not me, that’s for sure.

Okay, now that I think about it, maybe this disaster-ranking tendency of mine actually traces back to watching six seasons of Lost.

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