I hate riding in planes. Please note I didn’t say that I hate flying. When you’re trying to make people laugh, choosing “hating flying” as a topic is pretty thin soup. I actually like flying in the “being way up in the air” part. In March of 1997 my wife and I flew to Europe for our honeymoon just as the Hale Bopp comet was arriving to pick up those cultists and we saw it from 35,000 feet with crystal clear skies. It was glorious, and looked like every special effect movie featuring a comet about to hit the earth.

So I like flying, but I hate riding in planes. That’s still thin soup mind you, but hopefully it’s a more specific thin soup. Cream of water perhaps.

Airports are bad enough. And the happy no shoe dancing TSA grope fest doesn’t help, because inevitably you have to deal with people who don’t fly often enough to know how the dance goes. I went through LAX once, and for those who don’t know, LAX is not praised for its light hearted view of airline security protocols. The TSA agents are all standing there like the Gorn from Star Trek. You don’t joke around with Gorn, you just don’t. The couple in front of me during this particular trip was an older couple from Canada and had just connected in LAX returning home from a trip to Texas. Further, they have not flown in the United States since 9/11.

You might wonder how I know this. Well, when they got to the security scanner and the Gorn dude is droning on and on about three ounces of liquids in a baggie on the plane hrnn hrnn hrnn the couple calls him over. Apparently during their layover this couple had gone shopping in LA. She states to the Gorn that they bought some salsa and things at a local market, what should she do. He asks her to open her carry-on bag, which is one of those probably-a-little-too-big-to-qualify-as-carry-on-but-screw-it-ok roller bags. She unzips it to reveal it is JAM PACKED with unlabeled clear jars, filled with substances alternating from a clear bright green translucent gel to a bright solid red fluid.

It looks, to anyone who has ever seen a movie featuring one, like a convoluted bomb.

You know, the ones that feature two types of thick liquids that are separated then the timer goes off and they start to mix and that means Nicholas Cage has like 15 seconds to defuse it. And invariably the liquids in those movie bombs are green and red in color.

Jalapeno jelly in this case is the green gel and home-made salsa is the red one. So while the only type of explosion the contents of this suitcase are going to cause is going to be in the bathroom at some point, the Gorn still have to check everything. As soon as she unzipped the bag and opened it there were two levels of groans. One from everyone in the line who knew this meant we had to wait while it got sorted, and the groan from the TSA Gorn who knew that although obviously a bomber would never voluntarily offer up this bag therefore the contents were harmless, he was still going to have to do all the work to make sure the security theater rules were observed.

This stuff happens to me all the time. If there’s a line where someone didn’t know about the shoe rule and wants to argue about it, I’m in it. If there’s a checkpoint with someone who insists an iPad is not a laptop and therefore they don’t have to remove it from their bag, that’s me. If there’s a couple who bought 25 jars of homemade unlabeled liquids arranged in a bag to look exactly like a bomb in a John McTiernan film, welcome to Stepto town!

So airports themselves are unpleasant, we know this.

Now, airplanes. You’re in a relatively tiny metal tube with a lot of your fellow humans. The door is shut, and they are about to take off. All the lights go off except the overhead light, your own personal spotlight shining on your head. This always makes me feel like I’m in a CIA rendition room and they’re going to ask me where the bomb is and I DON’T KNOW WHERE IT IS ASK THE LADY WITH ALL THE SALSA.

Taxiing is the worst part, because you get to spend all that time contemplating which turn onto the runway is going to be the one that starts the take-off. At some airports it’s short, and some it’s 20 minutes of turn, speed up, slow down, turn, speed up, slow down. On a recent flight I ended up spending the 20 minutes trying to decipher the secret message in this pattern on the bulkhead.


Seriously. What does that mean? It’s like it’s complex enough to potentially mean something but vague enough it’s just some stupid shapes they felt needed to go on the bulkhead to either torture people like me or make it look innocuous to anyone else.

So now you’re in the air. (Confession time, I feign sleep during take-off hoping to come off like Hicks in Aliens)

Now, this is going to shock you, but when it comes to communal situations I tend towards being a socially awkward penguin, especially when I know I’m going to be cramped and uncomfortable and there’s a chance, however infinitesimally small, that these might be my last moments on earth. The very nature of an airplane means you’re going to be exposed to different types of fliers. For your benefit I have categorized them.

The most common one you will find is what I call the Mouth of Sauron. When I fly I have two modes: eyes closed, waiting to be told I can use my electronic devices, or using my electronic devices. When flying I either play games or read on my laptop or iPad. The Mouth of Sauron sees this. Sees that I am either trying to sleep or concentrating on a time passing activity, and yet WILL NOT STOP ATTEMPTING TO ENGAGE ME IN CONVERSATION.

The most frustrating thing about the Mouth of Sauron is that they assume that any rebuff of their advances means they are simply not trying the right topics. So my single syllable answers or grunts in response to their ever shifting topics (where are you from, what do you do for a living, do you have kids, is this your first time to Boise, etc) just bounce off of them. There’s no way to deal with a Mouth of Sauron with any finality without being rude. The one time I tried to be polite and say “I’m sorry, but I’m really into this book and want to read right now” I had a Mouth of Sauron reply, no joke, “Oh not a talker huh? Well I’ll do the talking for both of us” You know what does work? Murmuring “murder is illegal, murder is illegal, murder is especially illegal on an airplane” under your breath.

Another denizen you will encounter on airplanes is one I like to call The Walking Plague. This is a person who is not only sick but obviously feverish. This is an incredibly irresponsible condition to fly in and I’m not sure why airlines allow it, but more than once I’ve seen them in the boarding area, flushed and bundled up, sniffling into a Kleenex. And more than once I’ve sat next to a member of The Walking Plague and then a week later cursed them as my body turned into a rich natural resource of phlegm.

It doesn’t take too many flights a year to run into Judge Dredd. Judge Dredd is the person who believes the airline’s rules are stupid and arbitrary, and has to make a show of either breaking them to the point of being told to stop it, or argue them as if on this one flight, this one shining moment, they will relent and allow him to use his cell phone to make a call while landing.

“Sir please turn off your device”

“Sure sure in a minute.”

I’ve even seen a guy turn his device off, then once the flight attendant walked away he turned it back on, then put it in the seat pouch. He didn’t even use it, he just wanted to buck the rules. Way to go Mr. I AM THE LAW! Look, I agree most of the inflight electronic rules are dumb, but on the off chance they aren’t I can put up with 15 minutes without a kindle until we reach 10,000 feet.

The last airplane denizen I will cover here is The Encroacher. The Encroacher, either through bad etiquette or sheer physical size, cannot confine themselves to their seat boundaries. Now, I’m a big guy. As of my talking about this I’m 6 foot, 230, so yes I should definitely lose some weight. But I do fit in an airplane seat without crowding anyone else. If The Encroacher isn’t crossing the seat boundaries due to sheer physical size, then they are an armrest hog or at worst, a leaner. For the life of me I will never understand the person who just nonchalantly curls up against a complete stranger. Either I have physical contact issues, or more likely, this type of person is a creepy weirdo who probably has a murder room in their basement.

Sometimes however, you can see these denizens impact each other.

My ideal flight is me on the aisle seat in an empty row, and in the aisle next to me is Judge Dredd trapped in the middle between an Encroacher on the aisle and The Walking Plague on the window.

So having said all that I propose the following rules. I think they’re fair.

1. If you are in the Aisle seat you will, without comment or complaint, always get up for the middle and window people to walk around or go to the bathroom, even if you are napping on the flight. This is because you have the best seat. Note that this assumes the other two people don’t get up every five minutes.

2. If you are in the window or aisle seat, you cede your middle armrest to the person in the middle seat. They have a shitty seat, and you both get more room than them.

3. If you are in the middle and the aisle seat is occupied, and the window seat is unclaimed upon take off, you move from the middle to the window to give both passengers more room. You also put your below-seat bag under your new window seat so both passengers can stretch their legs into the middle below-seat slot.

4. If you have a screaming newborn, you will look contrite and apologize. You will not glare offensively at all the passengers as if you have the god-given right to bring a creature less than 18 months old on an airplane where it cannot cope with the noise and cabin pressure without screaming. I’m sorry your family refuses to come to visit you, you have no right to visit your screaming spawn on the rest of us without apologizing. Everyone loses here, so try to at least not act like you’re the put upon party in this scenario.

5. Do not cuddle/lean on people you are not related to or do not sleep with. Seriously why do I have to even write this rule down?

6. I know, Judge Dredd, deep down, you think the airline rules are stupid regarding e-readers and ipads and computer use during take-off and landing. Hell, I tend to agree. However the reality is that the rules are in place and we all have to deal. So if you whip out your cell while we are trying to get off the runway under the guise of "these stupid people don’t understand electronics, and I do not have to obey their rules", don’t complain if I BEAT YOU WITHIN AN INCH OF YOUR GOD DAMNED LIFE WITH YOUR OWN CELL PHONE for potentially endangering us all.

7. Do not watch porn on the airplane. Hey I’m a big fan of porn. I have no problem with it in general, but like clipping my toe nails, everything has a time and a place. I don’t care if you have the porn version of an all you can eat Netflix queue. I do not want to look up from my crappy impulse purchase airport bookstore Dean R. Koontz paperback only to see Jenna Chesty Boobs nom nom nom’ing on Peter McPorkSausage’s magical marble sack on your compensating-for-something-else Dell 20 inch laptop screen one seat ahead of me.

8. On the order of your fourth alcoholic beverage, when the flight attendant says nope you can’t have any more, if you still persist on belligerently ordering one more, I will pipe up from next to you and say "He told me earlier he had a gun in his cocaine pack strapped near his heroin bags!" The proper response to make everyone feel better when a flight attendant says they cant serve you any more alcohol is “Oh. Ok. I’ll just take a water then.” Bam everyone is happy. Know when to say when.

9. Seriously #6, I will punch your ass in the neck over and over again until you put that god damned device away while we land. Do not tempt me.

I personally feel these are simple rules. Can’t we all follow them?

I think we can!


  1. Eric Seiler says:

    Everything except #4. Sorry. I know it sucks and I hate it vastly more than you do because I’m being stared at by the entire plane. Look at it this way, he/she is much louder in my ear than yours. I do promise not to glare at you though and do everything I can to get my screaming spawn to stop screaming, but apologize? Sorry, nope.

  2. Zack Stein says:

    You lost me at number four. And frankly, kind of bummed out that you really think that stuff. You have no idea what it means to raise a child. You have no understanding where that person may be going, and/or why. Wow…

    Well, tried keeping up with you since you left the podcast by following your website. Not feeling that need any longer. Enjoy your canine companions, and being the stereotypical person that chooses not to have children, and then feels the need to let those of us that truly enjoy parenthood how much of a better person you are for not making that choice.

    • Stepto says:

      How interesting the way people read #4. It only applies if the newborn is screaming *and* the parent has decided to be a jerk about it to everyone else. I’ve had this happen enough that my point was the parent in question doesn’t get to act like the injured party in this scenario. I have another observation: if you wouldn’t take a newborn to an r rated action flick, you probably shouldn’t take it on an airplane. They simply can’t cope with the stimulation and you’re making everyone else miserable. Now, if you’re moving or there’s a death in the family, fine. But people in that scenario don’t act like jerks about the situation, so it doesn’t apply.

      Sorry that one thing undid undid the years I spent working with parents and trying to protect kids on Xbox LIVE as well as a decade of online safety efforts. I wish you well.

  3. Zack Stein says:

    You’re lumping in one woman with other parents, and that’s the mistake here. My wife has a large family far away, and had to fly with my girls when they were babies. It didn’t make sense for them to all come to us. However, an airplane is a public mode of transportation, whereas a rated R movie is a form of entertainment. The fact that you compare the two shows your utter lack of understanding why your insensitivity in calling them “spawn” is appearing tone-deaf and a bit callous. I’m not even sure how you came to even think an R rated film is the same as a mother and child on a public airplane.

    Families want to be together at the holidays. So God invented airlines. That was the best way for my wife and my girls to see their extended family. Sometimes babies cry. People know this. No one likes it. And I’m sure people think nasty things when it happens – but very few put it out there for the world to see.

    Who cares what you did at Microsoft? What does that have to do with your insensitive post. Maybe, instead of being ultra defensive, you need to reexamine why this elicited this response by two people – maybe more. I have no idea who reads your blog. But if I didn’t see on another disqus forum that you responded, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I’m sure I’m just poking it with a stick at this point… Need. To. Stop.

    It also kind of sucks that I choose to comment when your dog died, sharing my own heartbreak since that had happened to me – misery loves company. I also commented when I loved your posting about taking the bus. Nothing from you. But a critique to the fact that maybe you were a bit tacky, revealing possibly a nasty dark side (a hazard with social media and public figure types), and you’re quick to respond, and toss out your Microsoft credentials. That’s what it takes to hear from Stepto.

    It’s a very ugly revealing, my friend. I mean, who cares who I am? You don’t know me. And after this, I’ll be gone. I’m nobody. Maybe you need to take a look at a few things about who you are, especially if you’re looking to share your thoughts with the public. It’s a dichotomy to send a poem to Newtown, and then curse the spawn that cry on a public airplane (I know, I know, it’s their mother, but you keep blending it all together in a most unpleasant fashion). Those innocent children that died horribly in Newtown – they too were once spawn. How about loving everyone, finding forgiveness and patience. You have no idea what that mother may have been through that day. And I’m sure you’re putting zero spin on your version of events…

    I forgive you for your thoughtless remarks. I just choose to no longer read them.

    • Stepto says:

      I wasn’t comparing entertainment to travel as a choice, I was comparing stress and stimuli to under 2 year olds and their reactions. The two things are similar.

      In retrospect spawn was a terrible choice of words. I have dealt with more than one entitled parent in my time hence the dismissive word.

      God didn’t invent airlines.

      I’m a bit mystified at your comments regarding when I have responded to you. I get a lot of email, tweets, and comments. I was not intending to send a message or anything specifically to you from what you appear to consider some type of thrown I sit on, I was just responding to your outrage at what I consider to be a minor observation in an otherwise non serious and over the top post about flying.

      I’m not happy that you are offended, but each person owns their offense and you have chosen to disengage with it. That’s ok by me and again I wish you well.

    • Susan Swank says:

      Zack, I routinely refer to my much beloved child as my spawn and while I understand that parents like myself are free to use public modes of transportation, it is not unreasonable that the parent, while undoubtedly embarrassed and frazzled, still assumes a contrite countenance for the other passengers. A glower or stare is the non-verbal equivalent of ‘deal with it so screw you’ while a apologetic mien says, ‘My spawn can’t help it and there is nothing I can do, but I am sorry you have to deal with it as well’.

      For the life of me, I honestly can not figure out why you brought Newton into the conversation; the tragedy there in no way makes the cries of a strangers child less of an annoyance and you seem to imply that thinking otherwise means said person is heartless and unfeeling.

      I’m not a blogger so I don’t know da rules but I comment on a lot of blogs and think it’s unreasonable to think the host should be expected to reply to every reader. I’ve been allowed to join the dialog with my own opinions on the matter presented and that’s what blogging is about so I don’t see why anyone should take it as some sort of personal slight if the host doesn’t ever respond.

      Stepto- while I agree with the majority of your list, you forgot the vertical space-stealer. Yes I know the seats are designed to recline but unless you paid extra for space, you shouldn’t spend an entire flight hogging all the space the passenger behind you paid for– its just rude. So if you chose to do so, please know in advance that I will spend the entire flight relentlessly kicking the back of your chair and digging into your back with my knees until you sit back up.

  4. I think the whole thing is great, including #4 and the oddly endearing use of the word spawn.
    So #7 is my favorite…that really happens too! I couldn’t believe it…
    This pilot I met one time told me about how a guy was going to town (sans material) before take off and they ended up kicking him off the plane because when they asked him to stop, he just glared at them and wouldn’t stop…

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