Traveling is just plane gross

It’s been 10 days since I was last on a plane. I still have the remnants of a hacking cough, and my desk is littered with empty sheets of vacuum-packed pills claiming to be the remedy for sinus headaches, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose and a variety of other symptoms. None of them seemed to work against whatever the guy who coughed and sniffled in the seat three rows behind us gave me. My flu shot, my vitamins, my pocket-sized bottle of Purell were no protection from whatever he had. Stupid me: I had once again foolishly flown without wearing a hermetically sealed bubble suit equipped its own oxygen supply.

I think making people sick is part of my airline’s reward program. For every 3,000 miles they add a new way to compromise your immune system by stressing it to the limit. They start by telling you that the seat you’ve bought is so tiny and uncomfortable that they’re willing to change it to a better one for only $99. I thought that was just a scam and refused the deal. Big mistake.

During the flight I remembered a novelty act that Ed Sullivan used to book on his show: a guy in a black unitard would walk on stage carrying a small box about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage. He would set the box on the stage in front of him, open it and then carefully step into it. It took him about three minutes to contort himself into the tiny case and as he finally disappeared into it, he would reach up with one hand and shut the lid. It always got big applause. Flying coach on my airline is exactly like that except there is no clapping, which is sad because we did everything the contortionist did for seven hours, not just three minutes. I’m still trying to get the feeling back in my left arm.

If that doesn’t make you sick, they start with the brainwashing. Sue and I are careful to take only one piece of tiny, regulation-size, regulation-weight, carry-on luggage on board. We’ve seen the multitude of signs and heard the low-fi announcements that only regulation-size luggage will be allowed on the plane, no ifs ands or buts, so if you don’t have properly sized luggage, you will be charged a fortune and may miss your flight. As we buckle ourselves into our child seats, we see six latecomers lurch down the aisle with carry-ons the size of footlockers that they try to squish into the tiny, already-full, overhead compartments. No one says a word.

Then we have to listen to the flight attendant explain how to buckle a seat belt. Is there someone on this planet who still does not know how to do that? If you have to tell someone how to buckle a seat belt, then maybe you should also explain to him how to flush a toilet and how to use a fork.

This is all added to the stress of trying to get to the airport early, beating traffic, finding a parking space, waiting in line to check in, waiting in line to go through security, waiting in line at the gate, having to listen to other people talk on their cell phones, straining to hear garbled announcements, searching for some food that is not salted, fried or overpriced while wheeling luggage down a 4-mile long concourse and enduring the nagging feeling that you have left a burner on at home.

The restroom you need badly is either closed for cleaning or mobbed by an arriving flight or both. As you wash your hands, you see a haggard guy at the end of the row of sinks who is shaving and putting on deodorant. He is now changing his shirt.

Then it hits me. I am one of the “lucky” passengers who will actually leave this place today.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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