Reaching New Heights In Preflight Rituals

An airplane in flight

hide captionFlying makes many people anxious. For Susan Jane Gilman that anxiety causes her to overprepare, cut in line and glare at passengers who get in her way.

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Susan Jane Gilman's latest book is Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.

This holiday season, am I the only one who is looking forward to the new, full-body pat-downs at airport security? Combining highly invasive security measures with the odd grope is just fine by me. I'm one of the most anxious fliers in recorded history.

Maybe it's because a friend of mine was killed on Pan Am Flight 103. Maybe it's because I'm a writer — and thus capable of imagining limitless catastrophe. Maybe I'm just a nut job.

But flying always makes me incredibly nervous — and this, in turn, makes me rude, compulsive and insane.

The instant I book a flight, I start obsessing: Is my seat on an aisle? If not, I could pee in my pants or die of a blood clot. I try to finagle a place in the bulkhead. But in my experience the bulkhead tends to attract families with screaming children. Last time, during Christmas break, it was like flying in a giant tube of birth control. Half a dozen toddlers shrieked for the entire nine-hour trip. If the flight attendants could've offered in-flight vasectomies, they would've had takers.

And so, every day until my flight, I check on the Internet to see if the seat beside mine is still empty.

Susan Jane Gilman II

hide captionAuthor Susan Jane Gilman lives in Geneva.

Robert Stefanski

Following the dictum "It's better to be hanging out than freaking out," I always arrive at the airport ridiculously early. I linger at security, eyeing other passengers and second-guessing the guards' vigilance. As soon as the announcement is made that boarding is starting for First Class passengers only, I'm that jerk who plants herself directly in front of the boarding gate even though she's clearly booked in economy. I'll be wearing yoga pants and Crocs; I'll have brought my own snacks. "Seat 39J" will be plainly visible on my boarding card, but I'll stand there anyway trying to pass for a Global Elite Member.

When there's "general" seating, I'm even worse.

Last time, I set my alarm so my husband and I could be first at the gate. But then, people with "special needs" — passengers with disabilities, pregnant women, the elderly — were given priority. I practically had a seizure. They all got to board first, and they took FOR-EVER. Finally, I could proceed. Many of the "special needs" passengers, I noticed, took their sweet time on the tarmac, so I strode past them, hopped nimbly up the gangway, and claimed the exit row, with its comforting escape hatch and extra legroom. Only then did I realize that my husband was no longer beside me. He didn't arrive for another 10 minutes, in fact. And oddly, he seemed upset.

"What's wrong?" I said. "Look! I nabbed us the exit row!"

"Yeah," he said, "And you pushed past three pregnant women and a paraplegic in the process."

"But pregnant women and paralytics aren't even allowed in the exit row," I said. "How is that even relevant?"

My husband stared at me: "From now on, I'm giving you a report card on your traveler behavior."

He knows me too well. If there's anything I love even more than being first on the plane, getting an exit row, and a strip search, it's grades. They are so reassuring.

Unfortunately, my husband told me that as an air passenger, I've been averaging a D. But this means there's room for improvement — and as you know, I'm a gal who likes her room.

And so, before jetting off to see my family, let me wish everyone a happy holiday — and apologize. You'll no doubt see me at airport security this season. I'll be that lunatic who's cutting in front of you.

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