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"Do have a nice flight"

Bruce Abel

an American Airlines study shows that one in three people is aviophobic. They fear flying. My affliction is what-happens-in-between-phobia, the fear of what might happen in between getting the tickets and takeoff. It starts the moment I enter the travel agency.

"I want to fly from Toronto to Victoria return please."

The travel agent, while listening to me, simultaneously answers five flashing phone lines, writes twenty memos on a small scrap of paper, and reads messages encoded on his computer screen. His efficiency bothers me. No one can be that efficient. I just know he will book me one-way to the "Texas Fun on Death Row Canadian Dollar at Par Celebrations."

Like a criminal lawyer cross examining a witness, the agent fires in rapid succession, "When? Return date? Business or economy? Airport Limo? Hotel? Car rental?" Even before my words are out, his psychic fingers have computerized my answers.

I squirm. I just read the Globe headline, "Air Canada needs bailout." When applied to an airline, the term "bailout" isn't the most reassuring word. I suppose, however, that is better than Air Transit needing engine parts.

I twitch as the agent suggests that I buy adequate insurance. He says, "Just in case." But the quiver in his voice tells me more. I hastily sign up - baggage insurance, health insurance, life insurance and flight cancellation insurance. He warmly advises that the policy, should I die in transit, will cover the return of my body to the point of departure.

For reassurance, I read the small print on my ticket. All I never wanted to know about the limits of the Geneva and Warsaw Conventions are stated. "In cases of war, armed insurrection, rebellion, or mutiny..." I read no more.

As I leave the agent's office, he smiles knowingly and says in spectral tones, "Do have a nice flight."

At home, my empty red suitcase stands menacingly in the centre of the bedroom. The battle of packing for the trip begins. First, the how-many dilemma confronts me. How many sweaters will I need? Socks? Underwear? Pairs of shoes?

Then comes the fight to close the case. I sit on it. Poke it. Thump it. Squeeze it. Plead with it. Hours pass. In desperation, I pull on the zipper. Effortlessly, it secures the case. Now I face the what if. What if it springs open?

I start to sneeze. Every tickle in my throat is an omen of a missed flight. It seems that in those precious days before takeoff, the whole world, eager to share a rare flu bug, coughs all over me. There are also deep rumblings in my bowels. Montezuma will take his revenge just before I leave.

Weather also attacks my travel plans. I observe worldwide meteorological patterns, searching for the storm destined to cross my path. Like a mystic, every sunrise and sunset I look to eastern skies for signs of tornado, hurricane, monsoon, mistral or maelstrom.

What about labour disputes? Will a strike strand me in midair, or, worse, Alberta?

On departure day, I stand at my front door ready for the Airport Limo. I wait. And wait. Half an hour passes. They've forgotten me! Then, I recall that they changed the pick-up time from 10 to 10:30. The Limo arrives right on time.

As I take my seat, the did-I questions invade. Did I bring my tickets? Lock the front door? Close the windows? Unplug the iron? Empty the garbage?

A new concern emerges as the six lanes on the highway congest. Brake lights flare. Everything comes to halt. We are the exception. Our driver wheels up an exit ramp to travel gravel-spewing country lanes for an all-day rural tour of the province.

Arriving at the Terminal exactly on time, the driver smiles knowingly and says in spectral tones, "Do have a nice flight."

In the airport, I'm in the longest queue. Well, the line was short until I joined. Then, instantly every person ahead of me reunites with every distant aunt, third cousin, and common-law-brother-in-law possible. I anxiously check my insurance to see if being line-trapped is ample reason for a missed flight.

My suitcase, for amusement, dances the wobblies. When I pull, the bag wobbles over. Not content to wobble, it also whams the closest leg, thigh or crotch. At least, the case has not sprung open. But, we are still miles from the counter.

Why is it that you need a washroom at inappropriate times? I smile at the lady behind me and consider asking her to watch my belongings. Just then the public address system booms, "For your safety, please notify airport staff immediately if a stranger asks to leave baggage with you."

Eventually, I am at the front of the line. The attendant nods. I take a step, but the front wheels of my case defiantly jam - the bag only moves in circles. So, I pirouette in a circumscribed route to the counter. My suitcase demands an encore. The straps entangle my ankles.

When the attendant takes my ticket, her plucked eyebrows arch upward. She asks for photo ID. I show my driver's licence. Her eyebrows arch even further. The picture has me with beard and curly hair. Now, I'm clean and straight. She types, types again, sighs and retypes. Then she squints at the photo, squints at me, types, types again, sighs and retypes. Am I in the wrong queue? Am I really mistakenly booked on that one-way "Texas Fun on Death Row Canadian Dollar at Par Celebrations?" As she gives me my boarding pass, she smiles knowingly and says in spectral tones, "Do have a nice flight."

Now for security. The hand-held detector screams as the officer passes it by my crotch.

"No, ma'am, I don't have any metal there," I reassure her.

She tries again. The wand wails. On the third wave, the machine is silent. I can proceed. The officer smiles knowingly and says in spectral tones, "Do have a nice flight."

In the departure lounge, every seat is filled. Will I be bumped? And why are the passengers dressed for the Caribbean? I must be in the wrong lounge! The public address system cackles a message and the room empties for a flight to Cuba.

As I board the plane to Victoria, the flight attendant smiles knowingly and says in spectral tones, "Do have a nice flight."

Bruce Abel is a Guelph, Ontario writer and e-journal editor.

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