Unhappy Landing
by Jeff Kramer - Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Probing the real reason why airline passengers are subjected to wishes for a safe journey

This column would not have been possible without my colleague Ed Griffin-Nolan, who bravely wrote in his Nov. 27 Sanity Fair column about his dislike of the widespread use of the phrase “No problem” as a substitute for a simple “You’re welcome.”

Thanks to Ed, I feel free to assail a cliche that’s been bugging me for years and has particular relevancy during the holidays: “Have a safe trip.”

Really? A safe trip as opposed to what?

Screaming in terror aboard a doomed jetliner before it slams into a mountain?

Cartwheeling down a runway in a fiery ball of Hell?

Here’s the deal, people: I like getting on an airplane. Travel refreshes my spirit. (Can’t you tell?) It exposes me to new experiences that alter my perspectives and challenge my conceits. It makes me appreciate home. No matter how great a trip has been, I always look forward to landing back at Hancock Airport on a plane the size of a large roasting pan piloted by some kid who resembles Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies.

Let’s run through the numbers again, not that it will make any difference to most of you.

Your chances of being killed in any given year by lightning are about 1 in 78,000. In a shark attack: 1 in 60,000. In a car crash? One in 5,000.

Your chances of being killed in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million!!!!!!!!

Logically it makes more sense to wish me a safe basket of chicken wings than a safe trip to Tibet.

Once upon a time, I gave people the benefit of the doubt when they wished me a safe journey, figuring they meant well and were merely repeating a polite but statistically unsupportable figure of speech. But now I’m older, wiser, and I get what’s going on. People wish me a safe trip for the most selfish of reasons: Subconsciously–consciously in some cases–they seek to transfer their irrational phobias about flying onto me and to reassure themselves that it will be me, not they, who will perish in a disaster should one occur.

The true meaning of “have a safe trip” is: “If someone has to die, I’m glad it will be Jeff and not me.”

Thanks. You have a wonderful holiday, too.

What a cruel, darkly effective way to mess with someone’s mind just as they are primed for fun and adventure. When I booked a flight a few months ago to my hometown of Seattle, I was looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family and diving into some spectacular seafood. My biggest fear wasn’t for my safety; it was that clouds would block my view of Mount Rainier.

But as the trip crept closer, the “have a safe trip” crowd started in with its implicit premonitions of mayhem. Each disingenuous wish for my safety raised in me the specter of unspeakable horror. Immediately upon hearing that phrase, I would envision crash-landing in Armory Square, and somehow surviving only to have the passenger seated next to me–Charles Manson–suffocate me with his neck pillow.

Or I might see myself being sucked out of an airplane lavatory at 36,000 feet and vaporizing upon impact with Mount Rushmore.

Or I might imagine my mom in Seattle telling me she wants me to throw away a damaged electronic keyboard in her storage unit. And then changing her mind and having me put it back. And then changing her mind again and having me drag it out again. Oh, wait. That really happened.

But you get the idea. When you bid me a safe trip, I see dead people. Namely me.

Yes, there are exceptions. If I’m headed to a war zone or someplace truly dangerous, like Texas, which I would never do, fine. Wish me a safe trip. If I’m flying to Indonesia to wrestle Komodo dragons, sure. But please do not wish me a safe trip if I am flying to Phoenix to watch spring training baseball or to Italy to drink wine and look at pretty paintings. “Have a great trip” is what I want to hear. It’s upbeat. It’s unburdened with sinister portent. And it works especially well if I’m headed to a state where marijuana is legal.

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