Years ago, I kept a journal specifically meant to document my cross-country travels. I flew a lot in those days, bi-weekly trips between LA and New York. I was Executive Platinum – on my way to becoming a million mile member. And I loved it. This was pre-9/11 and back then you could carry anything on (once I even bought an extra seat for my Golden Retriever and walked her right onto the plane). American Airlines still served caviar on a tray with a fancy glass filled with dry ice. And flying was a luxury, not a hassle.
One of the reasons I kept my journal was not so much to document the actual flight time as to document the famous people on board. It wasn’t an autograph book or notes for a memoir. It was security blanket. I had a theory. And my theory was this: if you fly on a commercial airline with a truly famous person, you are likely to arrive safely at your destination. Think about it. How many commercial airliners crash with movie stars, politicians or rock stars on board? NONE! Those people, those truly fancy famous people only die on private aircraft! So if there was a famous person on board, I felt safe. And in those days, there was ALWAYS a famous person on board.
There was, of course, the secondary game I played in my head when documenting my travels with the rich and famous: the Headline Game. It’s the one where you write the mock article following the crash: “American Airlines Flight X goes down over Kansas: Famous Actor and some other folks including mid-level movie executive perish. “ If more than one celebrity was on board, the game became about top billing. Goldie Hawn or Bryant Gumbel? Gwyneth Paltrow or Johnny Cochran? Jean Paul Gaultier or Cyndie Lauper? I flew with rock stars and politicians and newscasters, famous athletes and fancy directors, and of course movie stars both famous and infamous. And we never went down.
So it was pure instinct that led me to rubberneck this evening as my plane took a dive shortly after takeoff. The aircraft shuddered briefly and dropped nose down and before it had even a moment to level out, I shot forward and turned around in my seat to see who was in my cabin. Nary a famous face in sight. Damn! After we leveled off, I took a second look, just to be sure. In front of me (yes, I got up and walked through once the seat belt sign was off) was a nebbishy looking business man who’d already fallen asleep into his newspaper. And behind me were a family of four – mum, dad and two darling little girls in matching pjs with princess crowns on their heads and dolls in their laps. Just before takeoff I’d heard the steward talking to the littlest one who was wearing her headset and trying to turn her screen on. He explained that tv couldn’t be watched until after takeoff and she replied, “But I always watch tv when we fly on our own plane.” From that moment, I decided not to worry about how much those parents spent to buy their two tiny girls seats in first class on British Airways. I also decided that those people must be rich enough that they were headline-worthy. And I felt safe.
So now we’re en route– bouncing around due to the crazy turbulence of winter weather. And soon you’ll be reading this post as testament to a safe arrival. But I miss those days of pre-9/11 travel when pulling up to the terminal meant freedom and adventure and not hassle and a pat down. I miss the days when everyone flew commercial and we spent our time spotting celebrities and not racial profiling. I miss the days when I didn’t have to pretend the people behind me are famous just to feel safe.