Dealing with high altitudes just takes the right attitude, by John McGauley

Most of you have flown many times, so you’ll readily get what I’m talking about.

Keene’s a fine place to live, everybody tells me so, but there’s a major drawback to residing here — it’s about two hours from an airport, that is an airport where airlines land and take off.

Okay, Manchester’s airport is about 80 minutes away, but the other two options — Bradley Field in Hartford/Springfield and Boston’s Logan, are two hours away. (So is Rhode Island’s T.F. Green, but no one knows about that.) If you’re parking a car and figuring the time it takes to check your bags and stand in the TSA security line, you have to leave Keene at least three hours before a flight.

I give it much more time than that because you have to anticipate such things as a stagecoach robbery on Temple Mountain, a rock-fall at Henniker or a bridge collapse in Springfield, Mass., resulting in traffic having to be ferried across the Connecticut River. You never know.

Because I’m so conditioned to adding those hours into the preparation of my trip, when I’m in other cities people don’t understand why I leave for the nearby airport seven hours before flight time, arriving before the guy who opens up the Dunkin Donuts.

For 25 years I spent the equivalent of three years of my life driving from Keene to one of those three airports because my job entailed a lot of cross-country travel, I was a consultant, which is a guy with a briefcase a thousand miles from home who tells you what you already know, then charges you for the advice. I’ve spent another three years’ equivalent in airports, waiting around, slouching on gate-area benches, dragging luggage, eating cheap hamburgers.

That’s long enough time in which I could have attended medical school and done an internship, residency and post-doc and now be making a ton of money performing colonoscopies or telling patients I don’t know why they’re sick.

Here’s just a fraction of the thousands of things I’ve observed or thought about when it comes to flying:

During the instructions where flight attendants stand in the aisle and tell you about the “safety features of our Boeing 737,” why do they still feel the need to instruct passengers on how to buckle a seatbelt?

If you don’t know how to use a seatbelt, get off the freakin’ plane, you moron.

They also tell you to not smoke in the lavatories and DO NOT destroy the smoke detectors in said bathrooms. What? When I’m using the lavatory in an airplane, contorting my body every which way and looking down at that toilet seat and thinking about the previous slobs who used it, my first thought is always to figure out how to rip that smoke detector off that wall.

“Will Mr. McGauley in seat 18B please come up here,” I imagine the pilot saying over the PA system, “Someone ripped down the smoke alarm and you were the last to use the bathroom.”

Here’s another thing. “In case of a water landing, there are life vests underneath your seats,” the attendants declare, and then instruct you on how to use them.

You know what pilots call a “water landing?” A really bad crash. You’re not going to need a life vest, just make sure to be wearing a piece of distinctive jewelry with your initials on it so they can ID your body.

I’ve got some comments about the TSA, you know, those people in blue uniforms who go through all your stuff at security?

These people have badges, just like cops. But police go through years of training. TSA agents worked at fast-food restaurants two weeks before they got their jobs.

I think it’s kind of fun, too, to watch people take off their shoes and belts and hold their pants up while they go through security. I’ve wondered what would have happened if hijackers and bombers had brought bad stuff on in bras?

There’s a game I’ve played in the gate area, waiting for the flight to board, that I call Guess Your Seatmate. Will it be the attractive blonde over there, or that big sweaty guy with hairy armpits in a sleeveless Patriots sweatshirt displaying an outrageous “man-spread?” How about that young girl with orange hair, or that cross-eyed guy with the T-shirt that says “World’s Best Dad?” How does he really know he’s the world’s best dad?

At Southwest Airlines, you line up by random number, so you can choose your seat, giving you a bit more control on your seatmates. For this reason, I carry with me a fake book with the cover title “Controlling Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” and pretend I’m reading it, while other passengers walk on by.

It sounds as if I don’t like to fly, but I love it. After all, you’re getting across the country in just a few hours, traveling a distance that took pioneers months or even years to travel.

That’s amazing, even if you do have to sit next to the world’s best dad who actually suffers from irritable bowel syndrome.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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