A short helpful guide to air travel

Flying in an airplane without crying is just one of those skills we are all supposed to have learned after a certain age. Sure, I get it. The jets fire up, the plane lumbers down the runway, and everyone is anticipating the sun reflecting off the sand as they saunter down to the beach, drink in hand, safely at their final destination. This is my wife. Happy. Carefree. Curious as to what free food and beverages will be provided as she arranges her knitting projects over my trembling lap.

Is she kidding?

Listen, do you want your last thoughts before your horrific death to be whether the peanuts are too salty? Are you going to knit and purl across the Atlantic rather than rend your clothes and pray mightily to any gods who will listen to please keep these 875,000 pounds from falling into the crashing seas?

My wife pretends she cannot hear my concerns and asks the flight attendant for a second glass of wine.

So why shouldn’t I weep just a little? Not embarrassingly so, of course. Just a little in recognition of the obvious. We are going to die today. In a plane crash. End of story.

Why am I so certain?

Well, let’s start with the planes. There we are at Gate C1 at the Des Moines International Airport waiting to take off for the first leg of our trip to The Netherlands. Okay, no big deal. A very small plane sits connected to our gate. Really, just a baby plane. A plane that you might give your five-year-old daughter on her birthday.

The attendant, seeing I am mildly concerned about the size of the plane, reassures me.

“Sir, that isn’t your plane, it will pull up next.”

You can guess what happens. Yup, a smaller plane, the mere wisp of a plane, really just the idea of a plane, then docks at Gate C1. This did not reassure me and necessitates a second trip to the bathroom.

See the man with the flashlights? He is bigger than the plane. I am going to die.


Then, in Minneapolis, we arrive at the baby plane terminal that is 400 miles from the terminal where the parent plane is going to take us across the freezing Atlantic. No problem.

It is no problem because we have the magic walkways that propel you forward in leaps and bounds across this gigantic airport. A flat escalator, really. Now, a normal escalator, like the ones you used to see in the old Younkers Building, lets you off at the top or the bottom with a gentle nudge. These flat escalators fling you forward as if you’re attached to the bungie cord ride at the Iowa State Fair. But, of course, without the cord.

My agile wife skips from walkway to walkway. After my third propulsion, I decide it is time to again go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, without the aid of the magic walkway, it feels like I have been on the International Space Station a day too long. I decide the bathroom may be an unattainable goal. I want to cry again. And to make matters worse, I can’t even remember whether back in third grade Sister Jean Marie said there were bathrooms in the afterlife. I suspect that I don’t know this information because I was in the bathroom at the time.

At last we are on the big plane. I look out over the hundreds of people sitting quietly and patiently, waiting for take-off. Some read. Some sleep. Some watch the many wonderful movies provided. Others are neighborly and make new friends and show kindness to the flight attendants. It is a very convivial group of world travelers.

I believe they might all be zombies.


The proof is obvious. All this metal and steel is going to be thrown up into the air and then guess what? Yes, Newton’s Law of Gravity comes for an unwelcome visit.

So, why isn’t everyone gnashing their teeth? Why isn’t everyone weeping and wailing? Where are the sackcloths and ashes of mourning? I start hyperventilating. Nobody else is hyperventilating. I start sweating. Nobody else is sweating. I again start crying softly. Only the baby three rows back is crying. Unpleasantly, by the way.

See what I told you? They are all Zombies.

My wife tells me to quiet down and look out the window.

After I wipe my eyes, this is what I see.


Yup, I see only one engine. They’ve lost the other one somewhere over the Atlantic.

We are all going to die.

So, you want my advice on air travel? Simple enough. Have you considered spring break in Grimes?











5 thoughts on “A short helpful guide to air travel

  1. Joe, you crack me up! Here I thought you were an intrepid traveler…maybe not, huh? Watch the first 15 minutes of ‘French Kiss’ You won’t feel so all alone in the scary world of massive pieces of steel hurtling thru the sky. (BTW…I don’t get it either. I think flight is accomplished by magic!)

  2. Oh, I’ve been waiting for this installment and it did not disappoint. New terrors around every corner of the sky, aren’t there? I’m so glad that in the past, once you’ve found your land legs, you become fearless. Striding the streets of some unknown city in the Europe, finding, seeking, and boldly going where no man… Well, I know you’ll peek around some new corners but I’m hoping you revisit some old friends and say hello from me. You know who I mean. Bon voyage!

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