Monday, December 27, 2004

Come fly with me

Happily, the flight to Seattle was only about two-thirds full, so I was able to sit in a row with an empty seat between my neighbor and me. Not that he wasn’t nice – he seemed perfectly lovely – but I gots to have my elbow room.

About 45 minutes into the flight, I noticed a very unfamiliar smell. This caused me great concern – I’d prefer to not smell anything at all when I’m locked and loaded inside a 737, but an unfamiliar smell is even more disturbing. Luckily, having previously worked in the travel industry, I knew exactly how to handle the situation: I discreetly tugged at the flight attendant’s skirt as she walked by and said, “I don’t want to alarm you or any of the other passengers, but I detect a very strange odor coming from the back of the cabin. Having previously worked in the travel industry, I feel certain it smells like bioterrorism. Are you familiar with the scent of anthrax?”

“Smell? Oh, you mean the food? We’re just about to serve dinner.”

Food? With smell? On a plane? Last I checked, pretzels and windmill cookies were pretty much odorless, so what the heck could be wafting from the back cabin? As it turned out, we got a meal on this flight. A hot meal. I truly cannot recall the last time I was on a flight that served a hot meal, but maybe that’s because I truly cannot recall the last time I was on a flight that took this farging long. Over four hours in the air? Are you kidding me? Isn’t there some jet stream we can hop onto to save us half an hour or so? Don’t we have turbo on this hunk of junk? Press that red button. Who’s the customer here? I said press it!

But getting back to the food, I got pretty excited at the prospect of a hot meal since I was feeling a little peckish from my long wait in the airport. I was waiting for what seemed like forever to get my meal, so when the flight attendant came to my row and asked if I wanted dinner, I flashed her a big smile and nodded eagerly.

“Would you like beef Stroganoff or chicken with rice?”

Oh god.

Please tell me that she didn’t just say Stroganoff. She couldn’t have. Maybe I’m a little delirious due to the thin air. Maybe she said something that sounded like Stroganoff.

I ran through all possible variations of that dreaded phrase, desperately hoping to find one that seemed more feasible than beef Stroganoff:

Would you like meat dough and cough?

Would you like teeth showing off?

Would you like cheap blow? F off!

I had to face the fact that while all of these alternatives were vastly more appealing than what I thought I heard, this woman was, in fact, offering me creamed meat on top of fat wet noodles.


“Chicken with rice, please.”

The flight attendant dug around in her cart for a minute before she turned back to me and, with one simple sentence, became my mortal enemy.

“I’m sorry, it looks like we’re out of the chicken. Can I get you the beef Stroganoff?”

Not many people know this about me, but there are few things in life I hate more than beef and noodles. Add a cream sauce to that and I’m moments away from ripping out my own tongue with a spork. I don’t know what it is – maybe I had some sort of repressed traumatic childhood experience involving chipped beef – but the sight of beef Stroganoff alone makes my throat snap shut. And don’t get me started on the smell.

Apparently this trauma showed on my face, because the flight attendant told me to hold on, and said that she’d check up front to see if they had any chicken left. I sat patiently and silently, praying that the front of the cabin was stocked with beef eaters.

During my eternal wait, I did what anyone would do in similar circumstance – I made my neighbor extraordinarily uncomfortable by staring at his chicken and rice dinner. I followed his fork from plate to mouth with each bite. Just as I was about to ask him if he was going to eat all that zucchini, I was spared the indignity by the arrival of my very own lukewarm plate of chicken and rice.

As I devoured my chicken and tried to avert my eyes from the woman in the aisle next to me eating the beef Stroganoff, I noticed a little slip of paper on my tray. I picked it up to investigate, and found that it was a prayer card, of sorts.

It featured a mountainscape in varying shades of calming blue, and said:

I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name
O most high.
Psalm 9:2

I thought perhaps some renegade nun was on board, slipping little messages into random dinners, until I noticed the Alaska Airlines logo on the bottom of the paper.


So… what’s that all about? I distinctly recall requesting an aisle seat, bulkhead section, and no proselytizing on this flight. I began to get truly suspicious when I reached into the seatback and found a copy of The Watchtower.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a churchgoer, but whenever I see little cards with religious sayings on them, I think of funerals. When I think of funerals, I think of dead people. When I think of dead people, I now think of Alaska Airlines. Is that really the marketing message they were hoping I would take home with me?