Monday, November 29, 2010

Short Flights Are the Longest

Everyone has tales of mayhem, madness and misery revolving around air travel including yours, truly. Some hate to fly, others are afraid to fly and then there are those who expect something for nothing. Layered in to that, of course, are the transcon flights stuck in a middle seat, the ten-hour flight to Europe next to a spoiled brat or screaming baby or the nightmare lines at check-in, security and baggage claim after a six hour delay for mechanicals and bad weather. Nothing starts a conversation among strangers like the shared, often embellished but just as frequently true and horrific stories of flying these days.

I'm kind of strange in that the longest flights in the world are the ones I enjoy the most, even in coach. I've flown London to San Francisco, Frankfurt to Chicago and both Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles in the back of the bus, none of which were my preference but all of which I survived just fine and would do again with no hesitation if meant staying home or going to Rome.

The longest flight in any class was Los Angeles to Hong Kong, a 15-hour haul that chased the sun from 1PM in California to about 8PM on arrival with scenic views of Yosemite National Park, Alaska and Siberia on the way over. Plenty of legroom, a flat-bed seat, no neighbor to step over or seatback leaning in to my lap. The upper classes are unquestionably better than being crammed in to a "slimline" Barcalounger that may or may not have a foot rest which is really little more than a road hazard on the way to the aisle.

Most seasoned travelers have their unique ways of coping with the drudgery of long-haul flying. One friend of mine from college took two Dramamine, drank a half bottle of wine and then pulled the blanket over his head with instructions not to be disturbed until landing. Others, like me, bring any amount of work, reading, music or videos to watch in case the inflight system is beyond dull, out of date or out of order. For me, the simplest method on top of all of these is to simply and quite seriously sit back, relax and enjoy the ten to twelve hours you're out of touch with the world.

Being anxious on a long-haul flight is counter-intuitive; fidgeting is most certainly not going to burn time any faster. Where I run in to trouble is being anxious on flights that aren't scheduled for longer than an hour and a half. As soon as I get on the plane I'm ready to get off and be where I'm supposed to be. The inevitable long taxi times to and from the runway, the endless circling to land and the wonder if the flight attendants will have time to pour me a drink all add up to the truest misery of air travel for me. Then comes today's realities of two hours before departure for the formalities, time at the destination for luggage and rental car?

I don't mind investing up to five hours of ground time on both ends for a flight that lasts three times as long. If flying were an ATM experience the "fee" for an international flight would still be a ridiculous 33% on top of the principle but two hours in advance of a 45-minute flight on the Shuttle?

I'd rather drive.

Gotta go!

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