Air bus

Remember when air travel was a big event, reserved for the elite and businessmen with expense accounts? People dressed up. They behaved themselves. They acted as if their fellow passengers were their neighbors, who might look down on them if they drunkenly snored and drooled.

Those days are gone. Flying has become commonplace and passengers have embraced anonymity. They know they'll probably never see the other travelers again. They dress for comfort, not to impress. They act as if they're at home, snacking and burping and screaming at each other.

These days, flying on an airplane is exactly like riding the bus. In Nicaragua. The only reason people don't bring live chickens on board is because it violates security regulations.

Granted, if you're cooped up for hours in a seat the size of your average infant's high-chair, you want to dress comfortably. And, since you practically have to strip at security checkpoints these days, sweatpants and flip-flops make a certain amount of sense.

Also, financially struggling airlines have stopped feeding passengers, forcing people to bring their own food, which is why the recirculated air in a modern jet smells like a busy day at Pizza Hut.

But such mitigating circumstances don't explain why some passengers act with complete disregard for others.

Example: I was on a jet recently with three small children (it's an FAA regulation that every flight must have at least three small children, and one must shriek the whole time). Their father played a DVD movie on his laptop computer to keep the kids occupied. This seemed like a great idea until the kids got bored and started running up and down the aisle, shrieking. Dad couldn't bother to put a stop to this behavior -- he was too engrossed in the film.

Veteran travelers know there are two ways to deal with the worries and boredom of flying: reading and sleeping. Both activities result in a sort of suspended animation. You wake up (or look up from your book) and -- shazzam! -- you're arriving at your destination.

But there's no dozing on planes these days, unless you're heavily medicated. And, even if you could sleep through other passengers' shrieking and arguing, you'd be awakened by the intercom, as flight attendants remind you to stay buckled up "just in case" (gulp!) or the pilot says the plane has reached a "cruising altitude" higher than you've ever wanted to be in your life.

I once was on a flight where the crew forgot they'd left on the cockpit intercom. They were talking baseball, clearly not paying attention, scaring the heck out of the rest of us, until a red-faced stewardess raced to the front to tell them to turn it off.

Which brings us to the Top Five Things You Never Want to Hear Over the Cockpit Intercom:

1) Whoops!

2) Where are we?

3) What's this red button for?

4) Parachutes ready?

5) Man, am I wasted!

So, fellow travelers, don't fear foreign terrorists on board your plane. It's the other Americans who'll drive you crazy.

The only way to cope is to ignore them and marvel instead at the miracle of modern flight. Lock your tiny seats into an upright position and enjoy the friendly skies. And remember: Your live chicken must fit under the seat or in an overhead bin.

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