I was talking to some friends earlier who are flying to the West Coast for a few days. As the conversation wrapped up, I wished them a good time and caught myself almost repeating the words my mother always tells me before I fly:
“Have a safe flight.”
I’m glad I caught myself, because my mother always says it, it’s never made any sense to me, and I don’t know what the hell it means. And I don’t want to burden my friends with this sort of cryptic mumbo-jumbo before their vacation. If I do, they won’t bring me back a souvenir T-shirt, or little airplane bottles of booze. That would be tragic.
So I’m left on my own to ponder the meaning of this riddle, this koan for the friendly skies. At first, I thought she meant to say:
“Here’s hoping you have a safe flight.”
“If I make it to the destination gate with a heartbeat, a hangover, and half my luggage, I’ll call it a win.”
Which is nice. Because what could be better, just before you board an airplane, than for a friendly soul to mention that they hope your plane isn’t torn to flaming shreds on takeoff, or has an engine plotz at thirty thousand feet, or gets hijacked by an angry pack of Bolivian banditos brandishing ceramic machetes and unfiltered cigarillos? I’m trying not to think about those things while I’m crammed into my sardine seat and munching my three salted peanuts. For heaven’s sake, don’t hand me a kernel of doubt that the airlock door didn’t close all the way, or the landing gear wasn’t screwed on tight, or that the vacuum-seal toilet might suck me into space.
I’ve got plenty enough to worry about with cramming an overnight bag into a space under my seat the size of a fetal chinchilla, and making sure never to touch elbows with the jackasses next to me trying to bogart my arm rests. Screw ‘safe’; I plan on drinking enough of those little bitty booze bottles to forget all about ‘safe’. If I make it to the destination gate with a heartbeat, a hangover, and half my luggage, I’ll call it a win.
Surely, no one would intentionally cause that kind of anxiety. She is my mother, but there are limits. Lines of social decorum and such.
So eventually, I decided what she meant was:
‘You have a safe flight, and do anything you can to make it safe.‘
Again, the logic seem questionable. Should I really do anything it takes to have a safe flight?
I could walk down the aisles pointing out the emergency exits and demonstrating the oxygen masks — but I don’t really want to. And no one else wants me to, either. People have a fairly instinctive notion at this point that the ‘exits’ are located more or less in the vicinity of the doors. And if there’s an emergency and someone’s wearing their mask backwards, or upside down, or around their waist like a fanny pack, screw ’em. Frankly, they deserve to die. Darwinism, now boarding at gate C12. All rows, all passengers.
Besides, we have stewardesses and male sky waitresses to sort those details out for us. If I really wanted insurance for a safe flight, I’d contribute something they’re not likely to have on hand. Like, say, bringing along spare airplane parts, in case of equipment failure.
But I don’t see that working out very well. I can just imagine the conversation at the security gate:
Security Guard: Sir, there seems to be a large metal object in your carry-on bag. Can you identify that, please?
Me: Oh, that’s just an altimeter.
Security Guard: An altimeter, sir?
Me: Yeah. A Boeing 767 altimeter.
Security Guard: Sir, why are you carrying a Boeing 767 altimeter in your carry-on bag?
Me: You know, in case something goes wrong up there. In the cockpit. Some sort of fire or malfunction or explosion or something.
Security Guard: Sir?
Security Guard: Please step into this room. And prepare to be ‘boarded’.
That would go against my primary goal when visiting an airport, which is to not endure a body cavity search. I don’t care if the planes are late, the food is bad, and the beers are watered down — just keep those little gloved piggies out of my orifices, please. The only cavity I ever want searched is my mouth. And then only with a tongue, and only by my wife.
(It’s like a little game. Sometimes I hide things in there for her to find. Like a mint, or a little note, or tied-off balloons filled with heroin. Good times.)
Luckily for all involved, I stopped short of telling my friends to ‘have a safe flight’. But I had to say something. So I gave them the best flying advice possible:
“Get drunk. Sleep on the plane. If you can’t sleep, have sex in the bathroom. Bon voyage.”
Now that’s the kind of advice they should work into the posted placards and crew member instructions. Leave ‘safe’ to the pilot and crew. They don’t come to your office and do your work; why meddle about in their business? I can almost hear the call from the flight deck now:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’ve reached our cruising altitude of thirty thousand feet. We’ll be back on the ground in about two hours and fifteen minutes, and we’ll be dimming the cabin lights for you.
You are now free to get hammered and boink it in the lavatory. Thanks for flying.”
That’s my kind of friendly skies. I don’t care how safe it isn’t. All aboard.