Saturday, January 1, 2011

How to Fly

1. Seat selection. For the smoothest ride, sit over the wings. The view may not be great but youll be closest to the planes centers of gravity and lift. Also, research says that passengers sitting toward the back of the plane are 40% more likely to survive a crash.

2. G-forces. These have to do with that blasted thing known as earths gravity (the details are trivial). Most humans can tolerate 5 g before loss of consciousness. If your plane goes into a steep dive and you want to be conscious for the final impact (or recovery), make sure to grunt, shout, and strain your neck muscles as much as possible—in military experiments, these actions have helped compress arteries and keep blood flow going to the head as well as G-suits do.

3. G-spots. If you are considering sexual intercourse in the lavatory, in order to become a member of the mile-high club, I advise instead making a visit to a hotel in Denver and extrapolating the difference. On the hotel bed, or in the hotel bathroom, try to get into positions that one could only attain in the cramped seats (dont forget about the armrests), or in an aircraft lavatory (sit, stand, or kneel?).

4. Mayday. There are a variety of ways to call for help if your airplane has an emergency. The most familiar is probably mayday. But you have to say it three times—mayday, mayday, mayday—so your message doesnt get confused with another. You can also say pan pan pan or pan-pan, pan-pan but this is only for a state of urgency, not imminent disaster, and it sounds a little too childlike for a serious situation. Finally, you can say declaring emergency which means the same as mayday, but sounds perhaps too formal for the occasion. If you cant remember any of these, don’t worry youll probably do the same as most people in the cockpit as the plane goes down. The most frequently heard last word from cockpit voice recordings is, if nothing else, the most accurate: shit. (Apparently, motherfucker takes too long to say in a real emergency, and fuck alone is too offensive.)

5. Dress. In case you are in a plane that crashes, youll want to dress properly. While flying over large bodies of water, wear wool; it insulates better than cotton or polyester. Do not wear flip-flops, fur stoles, or capes, which can easily snag on the pesky edges of wreckage. Finally, no neckties (strangulation) and no pantyhose (flammable).

6. Survival. If you crash in a remote, tropical environment and may have to wander through the jungle for days or weeks, dont bother with deodorant, which can cause strange rashes or attract large insects and lead to infection and death. For mountainous crashes, remember that the bows of a thick evergreen can provide good shelter from hard snows and wind. For crashes in arctic waters, use old sea ice for water. This ice has a blue hue and rounded corners and is largely salt-free. Water from icebergs is fresh, but icebergs are dangerous if you get too close.

7. Water landing. For any kind of water landing, be careful not to undo your seatbelt right away. Its the automatic thing to do, but a lot of people have died because they released the seatbelt and then were pushed around the planes interior by the in-rush of water and got disoriented. Wait for the water to arrive and level off, then undo the seatbelt and head for the exit. If you cant swim for shore, hold onto a piece of wreckage and dont think about sharks.

8. Emergency landing. A few years ago Wired magazine ran a piece on how to land a commercial airliner in case both pilots were incapacitated (food poisoning was the example used). In varying degrees of detail, the article said to: 1) call for help; 2) set the autopilot; 3) program your approach; 4) prepare for landing; and, 5) brake carefully. This is really complicated shit, of course, so be prepared to offer moral support, in the way of grunts, shouts, and screams, to whichever passenger has been chosen to carry out these important tasks.

9. Reading. Just as airplanes connect humans through space and time, books connect humans through space and time. When you see someone on an airplane reading a book, know that they are vulnerable not only because they are on an airplane but because they are reading a book on an airplane. This is a double vulnerability on which you should look kindly. If the plane becomes vulnerable, you should hold onto this persons hand—it will become more like your own than you can ever imagine.

10. Evolution. Never underestimate all the human beings it has taken to get to you: your will to survive has a tragically long history, only a small portion of which has been in air.