This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, December 3, 1995
It's a chilling question that all of us -- even veteran airline passengers -- ask ourselves every time we get on an airplane: "Is this going to be the one? Is this the flight where I get eaten by a python?"
This question takes on an even greater urgency than usual in light of a recent lawsuit filed by a Texas couple against Continental Airlines. According to an Associated Press article sent in by many alert readers, the suit alleges that the couple and their 5-year-old daughter boarded a Continental flight from Houston to La Guardia last October, unaware that "the passenger seated in front of them had brought a python aboard in a gym bag, tucked under the seat."
As a frequent flier, I find this ironic. I mean, when I fly, I have to go through a checkpoint staffed by beady-eyed security personnel who act deeply suspicious about my laptop computer, as though I'm going to leap up in the middle of the flight and yell, "Take this plane to Cuba, or I'm going to REFORMAT MY HARD DRIVE!" And yet these same personnel just let this guy waltz through carrying a major snake.
Anyway, after the plane took off, the python, as you have no doubt already guessed, decided to get out of the gym bag and stretch its legs. The couple's lawsuit states that when the mother saw the snake, it was crawling toward the daughter "in preparation for attack."
The article does not state what happened next, although apparently nobody was physically harmed. Perhaps an alert passenger thrust his airline dinner entree at the python, causing it to flee in terror back into its gym bag. (On a recent flight I was handed a piece of alleged chicken that was much scarier than anything Sigourney Weaver ever fought with a flamethrower.) But the point is that, unless you like the idea of becoming Purina Brand Viper Chow at 35,000 feet, you should write to your congressperson and demand passage of a federal law requiring that any snake traveling on a commercial flight must be (1) securely locked inside an escape-proof container, and (2) dead.
Perhaps you don't think this issue concerns you. Perhaps you're thinking, "I rarely fly, so what do I care about snakes in airplanes? It's not as though snakes are showing up in kitchen-appliance cartons!"
Try telling that to the woman in Roanoke, Texas, whose chilling ordeal was reported in an Oct. 5 Fort Worth Star- Telegram story written by John Council and sent in by several alert readers. The woman brought home a brand-new Silex Ovenmaster toaster-oven, and when she opened the box, guess what she found, writhing around on its scaly belly, flicking out its evil forked tongue? You guessed it: O.J. Simpson.
No, that was a cheap shot, and I am instructing you to disregard it. What this woman found was an 18-inch snake. Needless to say she screamed, because the Ovenmaster is supposed to come with a Gila monster.
No, seriously, she screamed because she was expecting a 100 percent reptile-free appliance. Her husband killed the snake (the story does not say how; perhaps he struck it with an airline omelet), and the woman took it, in a plastic bag, back to the Target store where she purchased the Ovenmaster. There, the story states, "a store clerk with some reptile knowledge" identified it as a harmless corn snake. The store's merchandise manager assured consumers that this type of incident is very rare. "It's not something I've heard about happening in my lifetime," he stated.
Perhaps not. But just in case, we all should be more aware of basic reptile-safety procedures, which is why I am so grateful that alert reader Barry Royden, who lives in Thailand, sent in an article that appeared in the Bangkok Post following the escape of an estimated 100 crocodiles from what are described as "reptile farms" along the Chao Phraya River. This article begins, I swear:
"People should not fear being eaten by hungry crocodiles that escape from reptile farms because they can be easily caught using a piece of rope and some food as bait, according to a secretary to Prime Minister and Interior Minister Banharn Silpa-archa."
(Don't you wish OUR politicians told us useful stuff like this, instead of yammering about Medicare?)
The article quotes an official named Veerakorn Khamprakob as saying that all you have to do is put out some food, wait until the crocodile approaches, then "simply tiptoe close to it and gently place a noose around its head." The article states that "the chance of the crocodile eating you instead of the bait is apparently very remote and hardly worth worrying about."
That is certainly reassuring, and I hope you'll bear Mr. Veerakorn's easy capture technique in mind the next time you're in a potentially crocodile-intensive environment, such as Thailand, or a Continental Airlines flight. You can make a noose from your audio headset cord; for bait, you can use the drunk in seat 23-F who keeps calling the flight attendant "babe."
©1995 Dave Barry
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