Air Apparent

By: S. G. Lacey

6:33 AM PST: Awake

Getting dressed for a flight always presents challenges for me.  Between being anxious and tense getting my ticket, nearly naked, cold and exposed, passing through security, then roasting on my rushed walk to the gate, the wide range of thermal environments is impossible to account for.  And that’s even before considering the outdoor temperature on route to the airport, or the uncontrollable climate on the plane itself.

Today, I select a loose-fitting cashmere sweater with matching warm, white booties; my feet perpetually get cold on the plane. No need for any fancy grooming this morning, air travel makes me feel dirty anyways.  Using a few pink clips to pin up my wavy blond hair, I glance in the full-length mirror and smile contently.  Even with minimal effort I look luxurious.

Content with my image, I turn to my travel bag. Regardless of how many times I double check the contents, I’m always worried about forgetting something. There’s nothing worse than reaching a vacation destination and realizing a key article of clothing or critical fashion accessory is missing.    

7:01 AM PST: Anticipation

Properly dressed, it’s time for a proper meal.  As unexpected, my culinary staff has outdone themselves; I enter the kitchen to the distinct aromas of cheesy eggs and fatty bacon. It doesn’t take me long to wolf down breakfast, excitement is high for the day’s pending travel. 

One of my pet peeves, I insist on eating alone on the outdoor patio when the weather cooperates.  Today, per usual for LA, is excellent, slightly overcast and 70°F with a comfortable warm breeze as the sun is just now cresting over the San Gabriel mountains.  No reason to watch the weather channel.  

I’m still a little tired from a restless night’s sleep, but anticipation of the upcoming adventure has me running on adrenaline.  Licking the final greasy crumbs from my plate, I jump in place a few times to get the blood flowing, then bound back inside, anxious to depart.

7:25 AM PST: Auto

This is a new car, I think to myself as we load up. Not that I’m complaining; it’s a black Lincoln Navigator with dark windows and a lift package.  I’m helped up into the tall vehicle and customarily settle in the back.  The protective screen slides across, providing a desirable level of seclusion for now.

I catch a brief glimpse at the driver.  He appears to be new and there’s some discussion with our crew, presumably about destination and payment terms.  I trust my underlings to handle these menial details and assume that we’re headed in the right direction as the wheels start rolling.

Between never driving and having a personal secretary to manage my schedule, as usual I have no sense of whether or not we are on time.  However, despite careful planning and a flawless travel record, on the drive to the airport, I always get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something unforeseen will occur causing us to miss the flight. Shaking my head vigorously from side to side to clear these negative thoughts, I turn towards the tinted rear window and aimlessly watch the cars slowly passing us on the jam-packed I-405 southbound highway.           

7:59 AM PST: Accosted

Online check-in and pre-screening efforts are paying off.  I’m whisked to the front of the security line, commoners parting like a river flowing around an exposed rock as they spot me.  The pouty TSA employee eyes my paperwork with obvious contempt, checking to make sure my documents are in order.  I stare back up at him blankly, trying to hide my impatience.

Successfully passing this first wave of protocols, I’m led forward to the next phase of more rigorous security.  I’m always nervous when all my possessions, including in-flight snacks and entertainment, go in one direction while I’m dragged separately through the metal detection tunnel.  Booties having been removed, my exposed feet cringe against the chill of the concrete floor. As I’m forced to maneuver into an uncomfortable pose inside this awkward inspection tube, my mind wanders.  What are they going to make me do next, lie down and roll over?

Apparently, I’ve cleared this section as well and am free to go.  Glancing back through the security maze, I see one of my helpers pouring the contents of my custom-engraved water bottle into the trash as he objects vigorously, pointing towards me.  I don’t understand how water can be deemed a dangerous substance, unfit to be allowed on planes. Turning towards the nearest TSA personnel, I flash a pair of bared, white teeth to convey my displeasure, and silently curse this intrusion. 

Finally, our entire crew has made it through to the departure side of the terminal and we spend the next 10 minutes reorganizing possessions and paperwork after this disruptive screening process. 

8:24 AM PST: Appeased

Through security at last, the next stop is mandatory, a restroom break.  I really appreciate a nice deuce before getting on a plane; the altitude does a number on my stomach.

It’s a little-known fact about airports that some of us have access to special bathroom facilities.  I relate these zones to those silly in-terminal smoking rooms; specified areas where activities can happen away from the general public, but in this case without the nasty smoke and bad breath.

As I enter this washroom, a woman in front of me hangs her oversized purse on the conveniently placed hook, only to have this peg immediately rotate downward sending the satchel and all its contents clattering across the tiled bathroom floor.  I’ve never understood the purpose of these spring-loaded hangers in airport bathrooms.  I’m lucky enough to have all my belongings carried for me so have fortunately avoided this awkward situation, but it still seems poorly designed.

Maneuvering about the clutter, I take my time checking which stall offers the cleanest and most comfortable amenities before settling in. After I finish up, the helpful bathroom attendant steps in and provides a much-needed freshening to the area. It’s satisfying to have such well-kept facilities.

8:37 AM PST: Acknowledged

It seems like I’m always rushing in airports. Feeling relieved, and lighter, all I need now is to find our gate with enough time for a drink before boarding.

With all the traveling I do, these airport layouts tend to blend together; narrow alleys of bustling travelers flanked by clustered groups of seats where bored souls slouch listlessly in waiting.  Intermixed with the gates and food courts are numerous duty-free shops which try to entice travelers with time to kill.  I prefer the boutique, luxury stores on Rodeo Drive to these cramped spaces, many pedaling the same fragrances and jewelry at every major airline hub.

Right now, I’m not thinking about shopping and prefer to stretch my legs by walking around before they atrophy over the next 6 hours sitting down. Setting out across the expansive, mall-like architecture of the airport it doesn’t take us long to find a watering hole.  My posse orders drinks, then the bartender notices me and without a word passes along a refreshing cold beverage, free of charge.  These are the perks of stardom.   

8:51 AM PST: A-List

Reaching the gate, we find a large crowd gathered. It’s amusing how people insist on standing right next to the check-in podium like they will be able to sneak by the gate agent.  There’s a clear order for boarding plane, starting with the first-class elites like me, so stand aside until it’s your turn people.

Padding by the stagnant herd, head held high, our tickets are scanned, then we descend the gently sloping jetway and enter the plane.  As we approach our assigned 2nd row seats, my partner, who is leading, hesitates, unsure whether to slide in or offer me the window.  Amused, I take extra time to examine both options before settling down on the inside; I love the warming feel of the sun even if it is through the thick airplane window. 

My taller comrade compliantly lumbers in next to me, placing my essential flight items in the seat back pocket.  I sprawl out, unencumbered by any baggage or possessions.  Ah, the joys of traveling with a helper.

Once seated, I take the opportunity to observe the passersby as they board.  It’s an eclectic group: men and women, young and old, all moving towards the back of the plane in the hopes of finding a space for their oversized luggage in the overhead bins.  There must be a simpler system than this for loading humans onto a plane.

9:23 AM PST: Announcements

As the cabin door closes, a series of unintelligible noises begin emanating from the loudspeaker.  I catch a few words like “captain”, “flight time”, and “altitude”, but most of the report is masked by heavy static. 

Predictably, next up is the safety demonstration.  To their credit, it seems like airlines have been making efforts to generate more engaging safety videos in the hope of getting people to actually watch them.  Apparently, these carrier companies haven’t yet realized that it’s still a safety video not a blockbuster movie.  As the images flicker on the screen embedded in the seat in front of me, a flight attendant standing in the aisle pantomimes the activities being discussed: how to buckle the seat belt, the location of the exit lighting, where and when oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling.  Somewhat redundant, since not a single passenger is watching her, and 99% of the current occupants have been on a plane before.  

As the charade ends, I bark out a few commands, stern and shrill.  This catches the flight attendant’s attention and seconds later she has returned with another pillow, larger and fluffier than the rock-like offerings they provide the commoners in the back of the plane.  I nod my appreciation and bury my head in this compliant padding.

12:34 PM MST: Appetite

Typically, I forgo meals on planes, they inevitably smell unpleasant and have a soggy texture.  Apparently, my handlers have finally noticed this repeated discomfort. As I sit curled up in the chair, a plate of crispy fried meats is presented to me unsolicited.

I take a whiff, notes of olive oil and chicken hitting my olfactory senses.  One cautious bite later my mouth perceives warm, moist flesh with a salty and crunchy coating.  Delicious, I don’t even get this quality at home.  4 bites later, I’ve inhaled the entire serving, tongue still probing over my lips for any remaining morsels.

No one else is eating, so this meal must have been a special preparation just for me.  Kudos to the chef, I now have a new appreciation for airplane food.  

1:06 PM MST: Amusement

Meal completed and cleared, my sluggish mind and stagnant body search for some form of entertainment.  A few options are presented in the seat pouch in front of me, none which are overly enticing.  One offering is worn ragged with use, my usual travel distraction but I know every inch of it.  The other is brand new, or at least to me; shiny colors designed to attract the user’s attention.  I paw through this quickly; already distracted.  Planes these days have all manner of TV and music entertainment systems, but never seem to offer anything interesting.

Discarding these boring materials, I shift in the large chair trying to get comfortable.  8 position changes later, I finally settle into a marginally relaxing position.  I can already tell my neck is going to be sore, but need to get some rest now before the exciting night ahead.

Just as I feel myself dozing off, the plane lurches to the right and dips; it feels like I’m momentarily separated from the seat below me.  This initial jolt is followed by a series of rapid bumps as if the craft is driving over a corrugated tin roof.  The muffled squawking returns on the loudspeaker, this time I catch “turbulence” and “seat belts” as the airplane continues to jostle to and fro.  So much for my nap.           

2:38 PM CST: Aristocracy

As I bask in the privileged privacy of first class, I take a minute to think back through my lineage: multiple generations of productive genes leading to successful lives.  I’d love to take credit for forging my own path, but my family history hasn’t hurt; a quick mind and good looks plays well in high society.  I haven’t seen my parents in years but hope they’re following my career and appreciate the star I’ve become.

Flying in the front of the plane always has its perks from a service standpoint.  In this case, it comes in the form of a young, muscular flight attendant who keeps walking by.  Seeing the sweat beading up on my brow, he leans over and pulls down the shade, then reaches up and increases the air flow from the overhead vent.  Aromas of fresh spring grass and musk immediately reach my nose as he moves close, bringing back pleasant memories from the past. 

Hopefully he didn’t see me drool, and it’s not from being overheated.  A little heavy petting from this cute, young gentleman sounds great right about now.

5:07 PM EST: Asleep

Apparently, the pills I took earlier have worked. With my short stature, I was able to curl up in the window seat, covering my exposed ear with my shoulder to drowned out the ambient noise of the jet’s engines.  I can never figure out why some travelers use those goofy ear plugs and eye shades; not only do they look absurd, but they offer little consolation to the distractions present in an airplane cabin environment. 

Comfort has been further helped by the blanket my new friend draped over me during the nap; a cozy layer of fuzzy felt enhancing the heat retention provided by my sweater and booties.  Extending my legs and arms in a full body stretch, I realize we’re almost 2 hours closer to our destination; napping is the most effective way to kill time on a long flight.       

5:40 PM EST: Arrival

Landing is always the worst part of the flight; that sinking sensation in the stomach combined with not being able to see what flight path the plane is on or how close the ground is.  I close my eyes and accept the inevitable result; all planes must return to the ground eventually, and I’ll just have to trust the pilot to guide us down smoothly.

The cabin crew has just come by to check seat belts, but I haven’t actually buckled up; what use will a thin cloth lap belt be if the plane crashes at 200 MPH.  Swallowing helps to neutralize the pressure building up in my ears, however, now my mouth is dry, and I take short, panting breaths, trying to relax and control my heart rate.    

Seconds later the wheels touch down with a high-pitched screech, bouncing twice before settling permanently on the tarmac.  Cellphones around me immediately buzz to life, masking the audible beat of my rapid pulse.  However, we’re on the ground and only minutes from being back on the streets in the big city. 

6:27 PM EST: Accoutrements

Just when I think the anticipation of taxiing to the gate is a drag, now we must stand here waiting for luggage.  It’s all the extra crap my entourage brought I’m sure. Granted I never carry my own luggage, so it’s hard to determine what’s mine and what’s theirs.

Hopefully everyone knows what their bag looks like I muse, watching the 5th identical black roller bag drift slowly by on the conveyor belt.  Trailing right behind this quintet is my luggage, a Coach offering in leopard print that’s easily recognizable.  I yelp out a curt command and one of my minions rushes over to snatch this item, placing it down gently next to me.

Finally, after pulling off 4 huge suitcases, 3 body-bag sized duffels, and a few tall cardboard tubes from the oversized area, we’re all set to leave.  This seems excessive for a 3-day trip, but it’s important to be prepared. 

Knowing there may be reporters or other interested fans outside security, I retrieve my bedazzled emerald necklace from one of the luggage cases and put it on.  Being fashionable is a full-time job.  Anxious to exit the airport, I charge ahead, my handlers in tow straining under the weight of excessive gear while I move unencumbered.

6:49 PM EST: At Last

One of my favorite parts of airplane travel is stepping outside after many hours cooped up in a tin can.  Just being able to walk around and stretch the legs again is glorious. 

As we near the exit door from baggage claim, a familiar sight takes shape.  Multiple lanes of cars, including many actual yellow taxis, buzz by at varying speeds through a wet slush on the roadway.  The slower ones near the curb are stopped with flashers on, while the further out routes move quicker, likely already having claimed their cargo.

Exiting the foolish revolving doors, which are inept for rolling luggage transport, the crisp 35°F air hits my lungs.  It’s a welcome reprieve from the cramped airplane cabin and stuffy terminal atmosphere.  

To my left, I spot a row of thick green bushes, leaves rustling gently in the wind, and instinctively make a bee-line for them, leading the pack.  My paws clear the sidewalk onto mulch as I race to the nearest shrub.  Raising my right hind leg in satisfaction I relieve myself, basking in the enjoyment of pressure dismissed, both mentally and physically. It’s been a long flight with several drinks.  The banner fluttering over the roadway above me reads “Welcome To NYC Westminster Dog Show Participants.”  I’ve made it back at last.

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