Midair Paranoia

Flying, I think, will always be exhilarating to me. I love the liberation of the take-off, the scary landing and the fact that you are essentially forced to do nothing for such a long time. I love doing nothing. It is my second favourite activity in the whole world.

I don’t even care about the carbon footprint it leaves behind. I have always been an epic recyler, re-user and campaigner. I do not consume much, I buy second-hand, I don’t eat meat and I have never so much as sat in the driving seat of a car. I think the environment owes me this one pleasure. I love flight. There is no adequate substitute.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been on no less than eight commercial airplanes as I enjoyed a mini world tour taking in Birmingham, Amsterdam, Montreal, Detroit and New York City before finally returning to Glasgow. I figured I would become jaded of airplanes, eating what can only be compared to 1950s TV dinners or astronaut food with tiny Tyrannosaurus Rex arms and watching stupid inflight movies. But no. I enjoyed every last minute I spent in each of those airtight metal tubes.

One of my favourite moments on my world tour happened when leaving Amsterdam for Glasgow. Unusually, I had been given a window seat and we were flying during daylight. As the plane circled on the tarmac I was treated to a momentary glimpse of the runway up ahead of us. I never expected a runway to be a small thing but the way it stretched into infinity surprised me and I was excited to know that we would be traversing it in a matter of seconds.

It was like seeing at close range the instruments that the dentist is about to put in your mouth, or being allowed to meet the animal you are about to eat in burger form: a rare glimpse of the methodology behind the pending misadventure.

The flight between Birmingham (where I visited my parents for Christmas) and Montreal (where I visited my girlfriend for Chanukah) was less relaxed but certainly equally exhilarating. That’s if by exhilarating, one means paranoia-inducing. And one does.

Eating breakfast in Birmingham airport, I was treated to Sky News images of the Israeli attacks upon Hamas. On screen, clouds of brown smoke erupt into the Gaza skies. The press have clearly screened the more impressive plumes so that mushroom clouds are brought to mind but in reality are far more low-tech and less devastating. The imagery nonetheless brings about an end-of-the-world feeling in my gut. Nobody would want to be on an airplane during such a highly charged political period. I had little choice now though. I would just stay away from news channels while flicking through the on-board entertainment system. If I don’t think about it, it can’t happen.

The images unsettled me and so everywhere I looked I saw potential terrorism. A woman’s lunchbag became a sachet of Anthrax. A stuttering man at customs became an obvious terrorist. My breakfast bagel became a big ball of Avian flu. What do you call a Muslim in a cockpit? A pilot, you racist.

It’s possible that other people had been unsettled too or maybe it was just my stupid imagination. The guys at customs seemed to be more thorough than useful. All shoes off. All laptops out. They even asked me to remove my hat, forcing me to reveal my marmalade sandwiches.

One of the pleasures of a KLM in-flight meal is that real cutlery is used rather than crappy plastic knives and forks. Normally I rejoice at such a detail but today I could only think of the potential security risk posed by such “sharps”. Designed for spooning up curry it may have been, but that spoon could end up lodged by a terrorist into a steward’s bum.

I was definitely not the only paranoid person on the flight. A New Scientist-reading Japanese lady next to me was wearing a facemask. I think she may have put it on to protect herself from possible germs. I had been sneezing when I boarded the flight and I had some recollection that Japanese people don’t like that. I assured her than my sneezing had been the result of an alergy rather than a virus but she wasn’t taking any chances. She removed it periodically to eat and to speak to the stewards though so she couldn’t have been much of a scientist.

Her mask just made me feel more paranoid though. Seeing an Asian person in a facemask just reminded me of the Sars outbreak a few years ago. Another image from the news to put the shit up me.

Later on the flight, a pretty young pregnant woman in a floral dress, radiating the beauty that only pretty young pregnant women can, passed by. I couldn’t help but look at her. She was hot. But I got uncomfortably paranoid that she had seen me looking so I decided to return to my other paranoid practices: casual misophobia and checking the undersides of coffee cups for terrorists.

Over a man’s shoulder I read the travel edition of the Wall Street Journal. “EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL,” the headline screamed, “DOLLAR WORTH LESS THAN LINT”.

We were going to die, weren’t we? We were going to die on this plane: me, the beautiful pregnant girl, the Sars lady. We would all be blown up by some bomb-wielding lunatic. Maybe there was still time to engrave my last will and testament into my arm with my duty-free scalpel.

I wouldn’t need much space. All my will consists of is “Give nothing to Dan!”

And then we landed. A smooth Montreal landing where my excellent girlfriend would be waiting with her boobs. I was right to suspect she would bring them along. She knows I like them.

How could I be so paranoid to think that I would die? I had almost forgotten that I am the focus of a secret Truman Show-type reality series. The producers would never let me die. Duh.

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