The math behind flight entertainment

Clayton and I are getting ready to head back to The Motherland (aka Memphis, TN) for the weekend to see my sister-in-law’s high school graduation.  Consequently, this means that I’m waiting until later tonight/the last few hours before we leave tomorrow to do everything that needs to be done.

I often procrastinate the procrastination. 

For me and Clayton both, this means we have to do laundry for the trip, gather The Girls and distribute them evenly at M the Beastmaster’s (because Sam needed at least a day off from Jaden and Maynard’s attention hogging before she had to endure it again for another weekend), and forget vital things to pack.  For me, the only  thing my brain’s able to plan right now is the entertainment ratio for the flight there.

I actually started negotiating for flight time on Clayton’s laptop because mine needs a new battery and won’t work unless it’s plugged into an outlet.  This makes typing on the flight….difficult.  This means figuring out the writing-to-reading ration and also planning what books to bring.  Because I’m old-fashioned and don’t have an e-reader (nor intend to ever get one), this means strategery regarding the various carrying cases I could choose to take, which will affect the size, thickness, and cover of the books I’ll be taking. 

I go through this every. single. time. I fly, so you’d think I’d have the math of all this down already.  “If Plane A leaves the Dulles airport at 12:14, and Plane B leaves the Atlanta airport at 4:27, how fast do I have to read Book 1 in order to be half-way through Book 2 by the midpoint of the first leg of the flight?  Consequently, if X equals the number of books able to be read on the first leg of the flight and Y equals the number of books available to be taken, calculate the sum of the books to be taken for each leg of the flight–First Leg (lasting 2.73 hours), Layover (lasting 57  min.), and Second Leg (lasting 2.3 hours)–and solve for Z.”  See?  This is complicated stuff.

As a result, I must carefully balance how much entertainment to bring: 

  • Too few books  and I end up having more flight time than reading time.  This is always an unacceptable outcome and must be avoided at all costs.  Even if it means craftily stealing the copy of The Economist from the briefcase of the guy sleeping on your shoulder in the seat next to you, wherein you have to carefully shape your jacket into a shoulder-shaped obstacle, and a la Indiana Jones stealing the Fertility Idol in the “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” shimmy it underneath his head quickly enough that he doesn’t wake up, thus allowing you to lean over, McGuyver the briefcase open by picking the lock with a bobby pin, and then carefully pluck the magazine from underneath a copy of an illegal stock report, whereby you then return the man’s head from the jacket to your shoulder in time to avoid the thin stream of drool from  hitting the suede of the jacket sleeve.  You must do whatever it takes to avoid this “flight time > reading time” situation. 
  • An alternate too-few-books scenario may also end up where you have only slightly more flying than reading, but if properly timed, you might have been able to stop into an airport bookstore on your layover and be able to pick up some make-do junk to read: a bottom-barrel paperback by James Patterson or some fashion magazine dedicated to the analytical study of Lady GaGa’s pubic hair.  This is by no means a “good” outcome, but it is the lesser of two evils, at this point—it’s always better to read crap than to be burdened with one’s own company for any significant length of time.  Or–*GAG*–talk to the stranger sitting next to you.  …Pardon me.  I just threw up in my mouth a little.
  • But too many books and I have difficulty choosing which books I want to read more than the others.  This is, of course, a more favorable outcome than the first, but it leads to division among my book preferences, which I dislike when I fly.  The mere fact that I brought the books means that I enjoy them all to a high degree (since I’m choosing these specific characters to spend my solitary hours with), but I don’t appreciate being in a situation where I have to choose my second and third favorites (since the primary favorite is obviously read first).  Much like picking second and third best friends, this always ends up hurting someone.

Depending on the thickness of the books, I can usually get through my average favorite 400-600 pg. book per hour.   Novels approaching 1,000 words usually take an hour and a half to two hours.  So then it’s mostly just a matter of determining how many hours I intend to spend reading, and I’m good to go. 

Or am I?

Because you also have to take into account the size of your carrying case.  Since the ideal carry-on entertainment bag must be something you can keep with you at all times, especially if you get the coveted window seat and don’t want to climb over two other people to get at the carry-on in the overhead bin every time you finish a book (ex-HAUST-ing!), the bag must be small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you.  Otherwise, Airline Stewardess Ratched will yell at you.  But, the bag still needs to be big enough to accommodate your various reading needs–which in my case, since I have a habit of collecting hardcovers of my favorite authors, can take up quite a bit of room.

Less-adventurous travelers, when faced with this dilemma, simply purchase an e-reader and their favorite books, and call it a day.    They carry their 10 oz. device easily in their purse or arms, travel with approximately 500 lbs. less bulk as a carry-on, and enjoy their reading on a specially-lit screen that’s easy on their eyes.  Amateurs.

Smarter, more stubborn travelers simply carry one or two paperback novels, and read at a leisurely pace to ensure that the books last the length of the flight.  Maybe with a few magazines tossed in for variety.  I laugh in their faces.

However, I consider myself a hard-core reader, and this practice extends even to my airline flights.  So I inevitably end up doing carry-on “test runs” with my carry-on bag choices at home, always the night before I fly so that I have a nearly unlimited amount of time to make the right choice.  I pick the top 3 preferred carrying case and my top 7 books, both hard and soft covers, and proceed to mix, match, and contort them in no less than a few thousand different positions and combinations until the I find the appropriate book number/size/width-to-carry on bag ratio.  Yes, you might say it takes up too much time, and ends up with a bulky, lumpy carry-on bag whose extra, uncomfortable weight will be directly proportional to the length of time you have to pack-mule it around an airport.  But I would argue that it’s a necessary process for the voracious reader.  Magazines simply do not cut it, and why should anyone settle with sub-standard book choices? 

Besides, I’ve found nothing better for deterring conversation with an annoying fellow passenger than nodding politely, saying “Excuse me,” and then sticking your nose between the pages of a book so that the back cover blocks them from attempting to make interrupting eye contact.  I defy you to find as effective a snub with an e-reader, where I’d imagine the only way you can pointed convey the concept of NOT NOW, I’M READING would be to look pointedly at your screen and click the next-page button every time they try to start up a conversation.

“Excuse me, but–” CLICK!
“Do you happen to have–” CLICK!
“What time is–” CLICK!
“Care to hit the restroom and join the Mile–” CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! 

Sadly, it’s just not the same.


1 Comment

Filed under books, flying, Writing

One response to “The math behind flight entertainment

  1. Leilani

    You need an ebook. STAT.

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