High, flying and bored (and a bit whiny)

The Thinker by Rodin

Did you see the movie Up in the Air? I did. In fact, I reviewed it. It made the life of an extreme business traveler interesting, so interesting that George Clooney’s character loved life on the road and at 35,000 feet and dreaded coming home to Oklahoma and his apartment.

In truth there is nothing glamorous about business travel. I know because today I am in the thick of it: flying across the country again on business. Normally when you fly across country, you switch planes somewhere, which at least breaks up the tedium. Today I am on a nonstop flight between Washington D.C. and that other Washington. That would be Washington State, more specifically Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The good news is you get there quickly. The bad news is that for an east-to-west coast flight, this is about as miserable as they come, being something like five and a half hours long. The movie is, of course, pretty mediocre, this flight being on United Airlines. This movie, Midnight in Paris, is reputedly one of Woody Allen’s better movies, but I found it kind of annoying. Perhaps this is because I find Woody Allen kind of annoying. Owen Wilson plays the lead character, and he is little more than a young and blond version of Woody Allen. Eventually, I tired watching the movie to write this instead.

To make this long flight less painful I was willing to exchange 7500 of my frequent flier miles for a first class seat. Alas, it was not to be because I waited too long, which means I am back here in the cattle car section. I’ve learned a few rules from these bicoastal flights. One of them is that a ready exit seat is preferred over a windows seat, so I am on the aisle. It is so much easier to get to the restroom this way. Second, keep the Kindle fully charged because you are likely to be using it a lot. I am, as I plod through the first volume of Shelby Foote’s chronology of the Civil War. Third, don’t try to watch a movie on my laptop. The video will come through fine, but with the aircraft noise and the limits on volume control, I cannot hear enough of the movie. A pair of noise reduction headphones might do the trick, but so far I have not succumbed.

When on a long flight, sleeping is one way to kill time. Coach seats are not designed for sleeping, and even if you succeed it will be a restless sleep because some passenger will graze your shoulders or poke you from time to time. Sleeping in theory should help the body adjust to an abrupt three hour time change when going west. I may try for a snooze but I have yet to actually fall asleep on a plane. And while it takes a day or two for my body to adjust to west coast time, it seems like I should not bother to try, because I will be high-tailing it out of here early Friday morning. Then there are the incessant interruptions. Seat belts on. Seat belts off. It’s been like this for hours.

Tacoma is my destination this time, which I have driven around but have not seen. I am hoping for decent weather, and the forecast is hopeful: a couple of days of sunshine, maybe. When you come to the Puget Sound, you have to expect clouds and precipitation. So the most important article to pack is a sturdy umbrella. I am prepared. If you are very lucky, the clouds might break and Mount Rainier will appear in its majesty.

Somehow I imagined a trip of this length between two major airports might warrant a 747, but I don’t believe United Airlines has any 747s left in the fleet, at least not for domestic flights. This makes me a little sad because a flight on a 747 would make this otherwise unmemorable flight memorable. I’ve flown lots of flights over the decades, but only once did I have the pleasure of traveling by a 747. The 747’s cheap cousin is the DC-10. I’ve had lots of flights on DC-10s but they seem to now be largely retired. Today’s flight is on an Airbus A320, a very fuel efficient aircraft but incredibly ordinary with one row and six seats across. We know what aircraft designs work well in our atmosphere, which is why commercial aviation fuselages all largely look the same. The 747 is the exception, and is still elegant.

The only thing different about this flight is what I chose to eat on it. Since my triglycerides are high, I have been told to eat fewer carbohydrates. This meant a salad for lunch and a can of almonds for a snack. I had to pay for this airline food, but for United, the salad was surprisingly good and the almonds were quite tasty as well. I am not sure I can sustain a low carbohydrate diet, but a business trip gives me an excuse to try.

With the movie over, passengers are left with few alternatives but whatever United wants to put on the TV, which is whatever network wins the bid for captive audiences. Today it is NBC, which means a lot of 30 Rock episodes. I guess it is an acquired taste.

Movie done, lunch done, TV shows boring, no in-flight Internet and still with at least two and a half hours to go. I cannot wait for the flight to be over. I am glad my Kindle is fully charged.

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