Simos Simply Cannot Fly In Any Sense of the Word

Anyone who knows me knows that I do not like flying. I dislike flying so much that, though I flew to Oxford like a normal person, I took a ship back. If no ship had been available, I would have swam. If that were not possible, I would have moved to London and become a chimney sweep.

Somehow, it never occurred to me that getting to Birmingham, Ala where I spent half of last week, would require quite a bit of time in the air. Somehow, when I was invited to attend the Southern Regional Honors Council Conference as a representative of our program, I imagined myself, Dr. Piper, Dr. Luter and the others driving the whole way in a yellow bus, singing camp songs.

Everything went well at first. I wandered gleefully through the airport, buying books and souvenir mugs and becoming overstimulated. I probably could have gone home at that point and called it a good day, but I pressed on. The plane took off from Tampa to Atlanta and I spent most of the flight clinging to the seat in front of me, trying to wrench it from the floor.

At one point, I requested that the captain lead us in prayer. Indeed, it’s a good thing that I am now pope, because I have the feeling I have prayed more in the last two and a half days than the entire archdiocese of Chicago. Nevertheless, everything went well for a short time.

Things started to take a turn when the landing gear decided it wanted to say hello. Apparently perturbed by all the attention given to mere air traffic controllers, the device emphasized how vital it was to the actual landing process by emitting an ominous crashing sound.

“Yes, landing gear,” we said, “we’re all very impressed,” and coasted groundward safely. This was all despite the landing gear’s polite suggestion that, of course, the shortest route between two points is a straight line.

The second flight, from Atlanta to Birmingham, was delayed briefly when some kind of alarm bell went off. Not interested in determining why an alarm bell was going off before my flight, I closed the window for approximately three seconds before a flight attendant hustled down the aisle and demanded I opened it. Apparently, the co-pilot was using it in his left-handed navigation system.

At this point there was a brief interlude during which I almost forgot my terror. The conference went exceptionally well, the hotel was beautiful and attached to a large shopping mall, and there was plenty of time for me to buy souvenir mugs and take self-referential photos. Unfortunately, Tampa had completely failed to move any closer to Birmingham in the interim.

As we waited in Birmingham, we were informed that the airport in Atlanta had apparently fallen under the ten Biblical plagues, and until all the frogs were removed from the runway and Leviathan was safely driven from the coast of Georgia, it would not be possible to fly in. Hours ticked by as we waited for some confirmation that the city of Atlanta had not been reduced to a barren wasteland inhabited only by locusts and Will Smith.

At some point, the loss of money to Delta became unacceptable and planes started flying again.

By now, my colleagues from the conference had informed me that the previous flights, which I had na’vely thought had been fairly stable, must have been piloted by individuals with severe inner ear infections, since they could not stay balanced in the air for more than a few moments.

At least those flights had been undertaken in actual planes, instead of the machine we now saw.

Quaintly referred to as a “bombardier” by my much more worldly comrade, Chris Brown, the aircraft had clearly been assembled out of Legos shortly before takeoff. It was essentially a Volkswagen Beetle with a jet engine strapped onto the back with belts. Just behind the cockpit, rear-view mirrors were attached. The pilot informed us we would be back in Atlanta in an hour “as the crow flies.”

Sadly, the authorities at Delta had not looked out a window before deciding that it was now safe to fly into Atlanta. We proceeded to fly into a scene from The Mummy, in which a giant hand made of thunderclouds chased us across the sky for several minutes. The plane, having a better sense of self-preservation than its crew, plunged about five hundred feet in four seconds. Then the screaming began.

The pilot, not pleased with his lot in life, decided to bank sharply to the left, and when that wasn’t doing it for him, he tried banking sharply to the right, then decided that it would be a nifty idea to ascend about twice the distance we had fallen in half the time. At this point I asked the gods to protect us, to which the gods responded, “Do it yourself.”

Happily, the plane landed safely inside the food court at Atlanta-Hartsfield. We were told that our connecting flight would be waiting for us, since all flights had been delayed – alas, our connecting flight had not been thus informed, and departed without us while we were at baggage claim.

At this point, the discussion had somehow turned to what I fear and spurn more: flying or math. I have a feeling that the two are going to combine in my nightmares from now on, with my final exam in Finite Math being administered on a “vomit comet” circling the Earth.

There was another brief delay while Delta booked us on a new flight. We went to Chili’s, then returned to the gate. Time passed. Slowly, the screens began to modify our departure time upward. As I later came to learn, Delta was looking for “the pilot.” After checking various broom closets, they recruited Superman to hold the jet up and fly us to Tampa.

There was another pause while Lex Luthor was removed from the runway; then we were off.

The flight from Atlanta to Tampa was much smoother, due in large part to the fact that the jet was three times the size of the sun. I am certain that we were visible from space the entire time we were airborne. Instead of flying, we simply sat there and allowed the Earth to rotate under us.

The jet was equipped with a touch screen that would not turn off no matter how many times I told it to. Possessed by a demanding, pushy AI, I would not have been surprised if the Delta equivalent of Clippy had informed me, “It looks like you’re screaming in terror. Would you like some help with that?” No, Clippy! Go away!

Eventually, Clippy informed me that there was a quiz game I could play against the rest of the passengers. Taking the moniker “VAUGHN,” I did battle against the rest of the plane and ultimately made third place before I declared, “Ronald Vaughn doesn’t need your trivia! Ronald Vaughn is trivia!” At that point, it was time to deplane.

It has been several days since I arrived safely in Tampa.

My stomach is still in Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport.

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