The Designated Irritant

Mack Dryden Comedy

No matter how experienced a flyer you are—and I have enough frequent flyer miles to go to Neptune—you can always learn another trick that helps you avoid unwanted surprises.  As every veteran passenger knows, for example, the seats in the last row don’t recline, the armrests in the Exit Row don’t swivel up, and if you don’t allow for the change in air pressure when you open your little cup of salad dressing, you could be giving your neighbors spit-baths.

I’m always delighted to stumble across another useful tidbit (#241: Dispose of used gum in the bottom of the air sickness bag—not up top where it can seal off the all-important opening). Today’s little jewel will be a revelation to many—#242: Relax, because the airlines put a Designated Irritant (DI) on every plane.

Now, before you get annoyed, be assured that it’s for our own good, even the good of the country. You have to trust them on this and relax when you spot one. That baby wailing non-stop from Dallas to L.A.? Its diapers have been soaked in ice water. The woman whose gum-popping simulates sniper fire? She’s on the payroll. Those drunken conventioneers yelling potty jokes all the way to Orlando? They’re a team working the plane together.

I finally figured it out on a flight out of Chicago. The flight had been delayed six hours for the usual silly stuff—ice storms, tornado warnings, “dangerous” wind-shear conditions—so I was already steamed when we finally boarded.  Then a woman carried onto the plane what was apparently a Gucci-sponsored assault on Everest, and it took twenty minutes for two flight attendants and a volunteer team of civilians to help her stuff it all into the overhead compartments.

By the time we finally got to cruising altitude, I was livid. I slouched in a steaming funk behind my sleep mask, trying to lose consciousness while mentally working out the details of a class-action suit, when a piece of metal RIPPED off the plane, THRUMMED violently against the fuselage and jolted us twice more with a bone-jarring THWACK! THWACK!  I tore off my mask and was clawing for my inflatable seat cushion when I saw the guy across the aisle THWACK! his deck of cards on the tray table once more for good luck. Then he started SNAP!ping the cards over one at a SNAP! time, in case anybody had the SNAP! mistaken impression that this was the first time he’d had these SNAP! babies in his hands.

Of course, our founding fathers set down the Right to Shuffle right after the one about bearing armor-piercing ammunition, so all I could do was grit my THRRRRRRUPP! teeth and picture the guy THWACK! THWACK! THWACK! THWACK! roasting in hell, or at least finding out his daughter is living with a musician. Yeah, a musician who rebuilds Harleys in the kitchen, ha ha! Yeah, hee hee! And then his wife calls from Buenos Aires and tells him the $10,000 worth of liposuction worked so great she ran off with the pool boy and all their savings! HA!–and–

Then it hit me: I wasn’t cursing the airline anymore. I was throwing hexes on a fellow passenger!  I’d shifted my rage from a huge corporation to an obscure little dweeb playing solitaire!  What a great scam! THRRRRRRUPP! The airline had worked me like play-dough! THWACK! THWACK! THWACK! I wasn’t plotting against the airline anymore; I was plotting to spill my cheese ravioli and pudding on a deck of cards!  I’d fallen for it!

Somehow, knowing the guy was just doing his job made it okay. A fellow working stiff, dedicated to protecting the airlines from frivolous lawsuits that would drive ticket prices sky high and flood the job market with unemployed flight attendants. I pushed back my sleep mask, gave him a sly, knowing smile, then a thumbs up. He pretended to be confused, even uncomfortable that I was looking at him like that. What a pro! Without a word, he got up from his seat and went to do his duty in another part of the plane. And I went to sleep to the distant thrrrup… thwack thwack of a dedicated DI doing his job.