During a recent 7-day stretch, I performed in five states, from Virginia to Seattle, and MO, IN, and KY in between. I’d have been a cranky, stressed out mess before I discovered these Five Ways to Stay Sane on the Plane.
- Prep is Key: Hardly a Secret, it’s just common sense, but if you wait until the last minute to pack and race to the airport, you’ve started off in panic mode. Pack the day before, budget an hour for last-minute loose ends, and get to the airport 90 minutes before a U.S. flight and two hours before you fly abroad. Sit. Read. Sip a latte. Celebrate the brain cells you didn’t fry.
- Push Your Canoe into the River: Many people think of a flight as a road: the faster you go over it the sooner you’ll get there. So they huff through the security line, try to board before their group is called, hurry, push, nudge. Wrong. I finally realized that a flight is not a road, but a river, and it flows at precisely the same speed no matter how furiously you paddle. Get there early, step into your canoe, glide into The River, and put down your paddle. Complaining and stressing will not speed the current, so save the antacids and drift along complacently for once in your harried life.
- Choose Your View: As with all rivers, you can choose which side to look at: the ugly one, or the pleasant one. You can glare at the moron taking up three seats in the packed gate area with two bags and his oblivious butt, or the proud dad chasing his giggling two-year-old; the massive consumer blocking the entrance with overstuffed carryon bags, or the radiant smile of the matriarch in the wheelchair who can’t wait to see her new granddaughter. I try to keep my eyes on the sweet side.
- Take Your Mental Health Supplies: I never board without earplugs, headphones, music, a sleep mask, and all the reading and writing materials necessary to stay as busy as I care to. I consider long flights opportunities for uninterrupted work (I wrote this on airplanes), and I don’t even have to change positions to take a nap. Sometimes the pilot will announce that “we’ve begun our initial descent,” and I’ll groan because the flight wasn’t quite long enough for me—I was close to finishing something and had to stop.
- Savor the Miracle: What if you’d told the Wright Brothers that their great-great grandchildren would be able to have breakfast in California and dinner in New York, wouldn’t have to burn a single calorie to go eight miles a minute, and would complain bitterly about it: the seats were too cramped, the food wasn’t gourmet, there were lines to use the restrooms. “Restrooms?!” they would blurt. “On a flying machine?” Yep. And beverages, snacks, reading lamps, reclining seats, cool-air jets, and a choice of music, movies and television (don’t ask, Orville, that’s another story). I once saw a 30-foot timeline of human existence painted on a museum wall. The time Man has been able to fly was roughly the width of a pencil mark. Ergo, don’t stress, be thrilled to be in the tiny minority of humans blessed with the miraculous privilege of observing the beauty of earth from five miles above the highest-flying bird. And when you land safely and watch your fellow passengers bark into their cell phones (“We sat on the tarmac for an hour—it was hell!”) and yank their bags out of the overhead bins, savor the miracle and give thanks. Happy Contrails.