Superstitions to Fly By
by Jan Baughman


Here I am, reporting from an airplane again.

Oh, Christ -- the man sitting next to me is fondling his rosary beads! It's only a thunderstorm, not the wrath of God. I close my eyes and imagine myself basking in the sun on the deck of a yacht in the gently rolling seas of the Caribbean. In a hurricane. So much for visualization -- I'll try reason instead.

I scan the other passengers for clues to my fate. Pilots-as-passengers are good luck because they can act as back-up if necessary, and also serve as an in-flight thermometer. As long as they are calm, I shall remain calm. A B-2 pilot once talked me through severe turbulence. "A Stealth Bomber is like one big wing", he bragged. "This is nothing". He was my good-luck charm. I survived that flight.

Nuns on planes are bad luck, as are groups of teenagers such as the school choir or the All-American varsity football team. The television networks will milk this sort of tragedy for all it is worth, and the movie rights will be worth millions. I will simply be a footnote in the Sunday paper's passenger list. Celebrities, especially singers, are bad luck -- too many have met a tragic death in plane crashes. Political figures can be good luck or bad. If their approval ratings are high, the pilot will be extra careful. I once flew from Dallas to Washington D.C. with Pat Buchanan and his wife. That was a real white-knuckler that I'm glad to have survived.

Sitting in First Class is good. It's smoother up there, and you feel too important to die; quickly adopting a certain blasť attitude about life (there is also enough leg room for an average-height person to adopt crash position, if necessary.) Many people are adamant about their seat assignment -- only the front of the plane is safe, only the rear of the plane is safe, never sit over the wing, always sit by an emergency exit. I find this silly and lacking in scientific validity. The nose must be the safest spot or else the pilots wouldn't sit there.

A woman's voice just informed us that we can see the Grand Canyon off to the right side of the plane. That was no flight attendant speaking. Now I know that I am in good hands today, though I'm not sure the male passengers agree...


Published March 20, 1997
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