The Imbiber: Drinking on a Plane

By Dan Dunn

How to take this holiday flying season from the unbearable to the enjoyable.

Most people think flying in a post-9-11 America sucks donkey balls, but I beg to differ. As a seasoned business traveler who still enjoys commercial air travel, I’m part of a dying breed, but I believe my capacity to derive pleasure from circumstances others deem intolerable can be traced directly to my close personal relationship with alcohol. Booze has the power to take the sting out of endless delays or hours spent in a pressurized germ-filled death trap packed with disgruntled airline employees and edgy civilians. There are four major air travel scenarios you must learn to navigate. As with most things, the difference between enjoyable and unbearable is all in the execution. Herewith, I offer these solutions to you, so you might benefit from my many, many mistakes in this arena.

  1. Pre-Flight The first thing you need to do when you arrive at the terminal is rank your pre-flight worry on a scale of one to five. A one means you’re slightly apprehensive. A five means you’d rather have unprotected sex with everyone in sub-Saharan Africa than get on that damn plane. That rank is also equal to the number of alcoholic beverages you should order at the bar near your departure gate. Hopefully you’re traveling business class, in which case there will be some warm nuts waiting for you when you get on the plane. Warm nuts make everything better.

  2. Boarding The most critical part of boarding—especially if you scored high on step one—is not to exhibit any behavior that draws the attention of a stewardess prior to takeoff. Examples include slurring, wobbling, drooling, flatulence, dropping your carry-on bag on another passenger’s head, unwanted sexual advances (which hard-won experience has taught me is pretty much all sexual advances during boarding), off-color remarks about warm nuts and, of course, using the word “stewardess.” (The dude stewardesses, in particular, are super bitchy about that one.) Remember: most airline personnel are criminally underpaid and terminally unhappy (Get it? Terminally? See why they hate me?). Also, the overwhelming majority of them are menopausal women who have been deputized by the U.S. Government to fuck with the lives of anyone on your plane that pisses them off. Become the focus of their ire, and you may never again associate the word “cavity” with dentistry. Just read your magazine and pretend to be normal until they shut the cabin door. After that, they’re stuck with you.

  3. Beverage Service Assuming you’ve handled your liquor well, you’ll get airborne and graduate to the best part of any flight: the drinks cart. A number of variables need to be considered when ordering. Is it before 10am? A bloody mary will get you 30% less stinkeye than a triple tequila. The general rule when en route to a business meeting or conference is to stick with Jack and Coke; it won’t make you as drowsy as wine or beer. Of course, if you’re in the insurance, accounting or medical equipment sales business, you can get as drowsy as you like and nobody will notice. Headed to Vegas for a bachelor party? Pack in a few vodka and Red Bulls with some sugar cubes to give your central nervous system a preview of what’s in store for the next 48 hours. On the way back from Vegas, I favor a beer or two for that warm “I think I’ll just settle in for a touch of a nap” feeling. Jetting off to see relatives is a different animal altogether and calls for something with more numbing capability than the typical adult beverage, especially if you happen to be traveling with (or near) one or more of those sippy-box-toting hellspawn known as children. Of course, recommending Valium and scotch would be irresponsible. As would making it a double. Just be sure to let one of the kids drive when you get there. Do rental car companies still install boosters in the driver’s seat?

  4. Layovers and Delays Perhaps the trickiest travel-drinking situation is the “many many hours in an airport” situation. Overdo it on the initial leg of the journey, and your layover could wreak holy hell on your nervous system. Same goes for missed connections and delays. For god’s sake pace yourself, or you may be too wasted to get on that plane once it arrives. Take poor Jeremy Johnson of Glendale, AZ, for instance, who I spotted last week in London’s Gatwick Airport while waiting to catch a connecting British Airways flight to Inverness. Jeremy, 25, was traveling with some buddies and apparently miscalculated the number of Bud Lights his body could handle. Throw in a 12-hour delay between flights, and the rest is video history.

And no, you didn’t just time-warp back to the 80s when you could smoke in airports. Jeremy’s “pals” placed that cigarette in his mouth after his involuntary nap began, and it hung there for a good half an hour.

Addendum: Special note on flying with celebrities The aforementioned Inverness trip was undertaken with Seann William Scott of American Pie and Role Models fame. Usually in cases like this, you can drink whatever the hell you want, provided you don’t get too loose and give the overly sensitive Hollywood star your honest assessment of the artistic merits of Mr. Woodcock and The Dukes of Hazzard remake. I’m happy to say he took it pretty well. More on this in next week’s column. Safe travels!


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