Off the page: Airplane Reading

Everybody’s got at least one worth repeating. Most have a handful. Air travel stories are plentiful these days, especially since taking to the skies is no longer relegated to the elite and the wealthy. Dressing up to board the plane is a thing of the past, and shuffling through security is akin to getting an annual physical. So certainly there are many observations—humorous, thought provoking, even sad—to be made while cramming oneself into a tight space with mass humanity to be transported across the country or the world.

This was the belief of Loyola University New Orleans professors Christopher Schaberg and Mark Yakich when compiling essays on air travel in the book Airplane Reading. A medley of writers, airline workers and everyday travelers share stories on everything from sitting in the airport, waiting for takeoff and landing to actually flying. It’s people watching at its finest and offers the perspectives of many.

Priscila Uppal’s entire essay “Excuse me” includes snippets of conversations that take place on flights such as “I sometimes like to refresh myself on the safety procedures. Every life vest has a different pull. How are we supposed to choose our meals if we can’t see pictures of the food? I like the look of this chicken wrap. The licorice packaging is happy and bright, I’ll have that. What are you going to have? Just don’t order peanuts. I’m allergic. I could die.”

With 45 essays on air travel, this compilation is a clever jewel and an easy read. Stories include “Eating fish on a plane,” “In-flight mistress,” “Things they ran through the X-ray” and “God, please let me fit.” It tells stories of flying when full meals were de rigueur and armrest ashtrays were actually filled with ash. Schaberg and Yakich expertly weave this collection together to offer the reader a bit of entertainment on the kind of travel we have all grown accustomed to. With a bit of insight mixed in with the satire.

“Domestic: check the flight number. Orders are taken from the front on even flights, back on odd,” writes Ian Bogost in “Frequent flight,” about those, like him, who fly extensively for work. “We choose seats early to avoid the wet sandwich. International: we’ve already eaten the filet of beef with demi-glace sauce, the curried chicken, even the pan-seared cod. Eventually we stop ordering anything. A flying problem is the opposite of the a drinking problem: it starts when you lose interest in the free booze.”