(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, June 14, 1998)
For those of you planning to travel by air, here are some amazing statistics about the U.S. airline industry (motto: "We're Hoping To Have A Motto Announcement In About An Hour"). This year, U.S. airlines will carry a record 143 million passengers, who will be in the air for 382 million hours, during which they will be fed an estimated total of four peanuts.
Yes, the airlines are cutting back on food service, as was dramatically demonstrated on a recent New-York-to-London flight wherein nine first-class passengers were eaten by raiders from coach. But despite the cutbacks, the U.S. airline industry is still one of the safest on Earth; the only nation with a better safety record is the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, which has only one airplane and can't figure out how to start it.
The U.S. airline industry, in contrast, boasts a vast fleet of modern planes maintained by a corps of highly professional mechanics, by which I mean "mechanics who are all wearing the same color of uniform." This is not the case in some countries. One time I was leaving a Caribbean island aboard a two-propeller airplane owned by an airline with a name like "Air Limbo." As we sat on the runway, getting ready for takeoff, I could not help but notice that an important-looking fluid was gushing out of the engine on my side. This made me nervous, so I was relieved when a man wearing shorts and flip-flops came over to take a look. He studied the fluid, which was really pouring out, then he turned toward the pilot and made the "OK" sign. I was thinking, "OK? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, OK??" And while I was thinking that, we took off . We did make it to our destination, but I'm pretty sure we were followed the whole way by a pack of hungry sharks thinking, "That thing can't stay up there much longer!"
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
You generally don't have to worry about sharks with domestic air travel, but there are things you need to know, which is why today I'm presenting these:
ANSWERS TO COMMON AIR-TRAVEL QUESTIONS
Q. Airline fares are very confusing. How, exactly, does the airline determine the price of my ticket?
A. Many cost factors are involved in flying an airplane from Point A to Point B, including distance, passenger load, whether each pilot will get his own pilot hat or they're going to share, and whether Point B has a runway.
Q. So the airlines use these cost factors to calculate a rational price for my ticket?
A. No. That is determined by Rudy the Fare Chicken, who decides the price of each ticket individually by pecking on a computer keyboard sprinkled with corn. If an airline agent tells you that they're having "computer problems, " this means that Rudy is sick, and technicians are trying to activate the backup system, Conrad the Fare Hamster.
Q. When should I arrive at the airport?
A. You should arrive two hours before your scheduled departure time, so that you will be among the first to know that your flight has been delayed due to mechanical problems.
Q. What do they mean by "mechanical problems"?
A. They mean that the pilot cannot find his magic feather.
Q. What precautions will be taken to insure that there is no terrorist bomb aboard my aircraft?
A. The airline agent will ask you a series of security questions shrewdly designed to outwit terrorism, such as: "Did any terrorist unknown to you give you a bomb to carry on board this plane?" Also, if you have a laptop computer, they may ask you to turn it on, thus proving that it is not a terrorist bomb.
Q. But couldn't a terrorist easily put a bomb in a computer in such a way that the computer could still be turned on?
A. Shut up.
Q. What happens to my carry-on baggage when it goes through the X-ray machine?
A. There is a man named Karl crouching inside there who paws rapidly through your belongings.
Q. Looking for terrorist bombs?
A. No. Soiled underwear.
Q. How much carry-on baggage am I allowed to take?
A. In the past, passengers had to be able to physically lift the luggage to carry it on to the plane. But that restriction has been eliminated, thanks to the discovery, by the luggage industry, of wheels. Today, passengers routinely board airplanes towing suitcases the size of sleeper sofas. On a recent TWA flight from St. Louis to Atlanta, a passenger boarded with a Volkswagen Jetta, which he was able to get into the overhead storage bin after just seven hours of shoving.
Q. What is that thumping noise you sometimes hear after takeoff?
A. That is Vomax, Hell Demon of the Cargo Hold. It is nothing to worry about.
Q. Why do they make you bring your seat back to the full upright and locked position?
A. Because they do not like you.
* * *
One final thought: Although most of us feel anxiety about flying, it's important to remember that, statistically, commercial airline travel is more than three times as safe as snake handling. So buckle up, and have a great flight! I myself will be on Air Kyrgyzstan.
(c) 2010, Dave Barry
This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.