Thursday, January 7, 2010

Come Fly With Me, Or Not

When the 23-year-old terrorist attempted to bring down a passenger jet Christmas Day, he not only shook up the airline industry, but also turned this 71-year-old occasional flyer into a suspect. Because of his deed, airport security now scan passengers' behavior for clues. Those who nervously glance about, or repeatedly open and close their bags are targets for investigation. That’s me!

It's not fear of flying that causes my fidgetiness. Au contraire, once I’m on board and the plane takes off, I’m as relaxed as if I were sunning at the shore. It’s the lead-up to lift off that drives me (and truth be told, all of my loved ones) nutty, and produces the eccentric behavior likely to flag security’s attention.

Prior to Departure Day; I leisurely pack. By leisurely, I mean a week before. The suitcase is in the spare room, open on the bed, and each day I deposit some article of clothing that may or may not make it to final latching. With this leisurely method, and deaf to the derision of my husband who throws things into his suitcase the night before, my luggage is sealed and standing at the front door before the sun rises on D Day.

To further lessen anxiety, I insist on printing out my boarding pass as soon as the clock strikes the allowable time. At home, I make sure my printer is on, a full stack of plain white paper is in the feed, and there is nothing to interrupt the procedure.

If I am out-of-town, and you can confirm this with either of my daughters, I start plaguing them as soon as they have their coffee. “Is the printer on?” I will ask as if I were waiting for my drug fix. “Yes, Mommy,” they will answer, in a voice similar to the one used for their offspring. There have been times when leery of their equipment, I insist on stopping at a Kinko’s to get the job done. (I have already printed out the locations of all Kinko’s in a five-block area.)

When I travel with my husband, we discuss the time we'll leave the house on departure day. This is an amusing exercise as both of us know that no matter the time agreed upon, I'll be sitting at the bottom of the staircase, dressed in my coat, and hand atop the luggage handle 30 minutes before.

I prefer to arrive at the gate a full hour before departure, and seated with my Starbucks coffee and the New York Times. Instead of reading, though, I’m behaving in the exact mode on the terrorist watch list. I frequently rise to check the board that identifies our gate. Sure, it said C12 when we arrived, but perhaps it’s been changed now and we’ll have to make a mad dash to the new gate.

Although I’ve packed my tote with enough snacks, cords, and meds to accommodate an unexpected delay, I’ll unzip and search every 15 minutes to be sure I didn’t just imagine adding Aleve to the pill case.

And once the plane begins boarding, although I may be in Group 4 and they are just on First Class, I rise, pace, and get in the back of the line of Group 3. Husband, of course, prefers to wait until 4 is called, which causes us to separate and meet up in the crowded airplane aisle where I await his hoisting. (My carry-on, not me.)

One may wonder why I continue to fly if the trips cause so much anxiety. But because my daughters have elected to live on either side of the U.S. (Boston and Los Angeles), and if I want to see my grandchildren before they bear children of their own, it’s essential I endure. So if airport security seeks a target for this flyer’s suspicious behavior, you know whom to finger.