Archive for the parenthood Category

Your Kids On An Airliner, Flying Alone? Do It Right.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, parenthood, passenger, travel, travel tips, unaccompanied minors with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2011 by Chris Manno

Little big man standing by the gate, already gone.

Mom’s there, the pain of the thousand miles about to shove themselves between her and the boy draws her eyes into a squint that you know damn well is there for a reason. But he’s already gone, his eyes set elsewhere, the leaving now a mere formality etched in stone beyond his reach or doing. The flight migration of the solo kids: coast to coast, north to south, the sad winds of divorce carry kids aloft.

It’s year round but especially heavy around Memorial Day. Holidays? Summer? Solomon: two halves of one is still less than a whole. But it’s all we got–decreed; so chin up, little nomad.

Way too familiar, and I’m too foolish to pretend I don’t notice. Last minute, before boarding myself and stepping into the cockpit, staying out of everyone’s hair until about ten minutes prior to push, I do what I can. Mom’s there, bereft, dying a little inside, not even hiding her pain. What can I do?

I’ll get to that. But more importantly, what can you do if you’re the parent sending off your child?

According to the Department of Transportation, more than seventy thousand minors will fly unaccompanied this year. Big Fact Two, according to Parenting Magazine, is that parental preparation will make all the difference for those children who do fly solo this year.

There, the authorities have spoken. Now, hear me, the guy standing on the bridge on both ends of the voyage.

First, parents: ante up. All major airlines now have programs to care for kids who fly “Unaccompanied,” or “UM:” Unaccompanied Minor.” They are not not free. But they are essential. Your child will be logged in to the system, your credentials and those of whomever is on the other end will be verified. So whoever picks up your child will be positively identified by official documentation: driver’s license, passport or government issued ID. I watch it every week: our flight attendants will walk your child out and verify that they are delivered to the correct person.

Mid flight? You say you’ve booked them on a thru-flight, meaning no aircraft change enroute? GMAB! I can’t tell you how many times my flight sequence from one coast to the other, same flight number, supposedly same aircraft, gets changed. “Take all of your belongings of the plane,” the agent will say on the P.A., “and proceed from this terminal to the new gate in the other terminal.”

Saved $100 bucks on the U.M. fee, did you, because “” promised you a stop but no aircraft change? Don’t even think about it. Because no, the flight attendants won’t take care of the switch because they might not even be scheduled on that next flight. Want to see if your little one can navigate a major airport? Pay the fee.

What you get it this: signatures and verification will follow your child every step of the way. Do I know how many kids are flying alone on my jet? No. Do I know how many officially designated Unaccompanied Minors are on my flight? You bet I do–just as with any special or hazardous cargo or armed individuals, I know who and where they are. And I take it one step further, as I do with armed passengers: I don’t care what I’m “supposed” to be doing, I’ll take the time during boarding to meet eye to eye, say, hello, and tell an Unaccompanied, or “UM” as we call them, by name “we’re glad you’re here. It’s going to be a good flight and if you need anything, you let us know.”

Important to me, hope it is to them. Regardless, when we have the UM vouchers, now my crew knows who they are and where they’re sitting. And someone will hand-carry them to where they need to be.

But even more practical, in my experience, is that the UM process allows you to accompany your child through security and to their boarding gate, as well as permitting someone you designate (have their driver’s license number or other government issued ID info when you check in) meet them at their arrival gate.

Second, send them on board calorized. That is, make sure they’ve eaten recently or have with them some snacks they can manage. Yes, there’s “buy on board” food on many flights–but the transaction is cashless: credit card only. Make sure they have water when they board too–get it on the secure side of the airport because you can’t take it through security.

Pack them sensibly: make sure their bag that they take on board is manageable for them. Don’t count on someone else handling their bag, and make it one that can fit under the seat in front of them, as little ones won’t have much luck with the overhead bins. Anything else you need to send with them–check it at the ticket counter.

Do this: Google “airlines” and “unaccompanied minors,” and be sure to read the airline of your choice’s procedures, plus the many decent parenting articles with tips on UM travel–like this big one I’m going to give you: say your good-byes at home. That’s what the kids are leaving, and that’s where they’ll return. The airport is part of the journey–don’t make it part of the good-bye. Be matter of fact from that point and it will be easier for you and your child.

And finally, show up. I mean on the receiving end, and I mean on time. Flashback, Christmas Eve, a west coast destination, late evening. Our little trooper is standing by the ticket agent as the crew deplanes. The agent has her paperwork, waiting for a late parent. On Christmas Eve. Twenty minutes after our arrival. And we were late.

My crew is tired. Our van is at the curb waiting to take us to the hotel–but nobody’s leaving our little UM. We wait. We hate the parent who didn’t leave two hours early and camp out so as to meet our child at the gate. Be there, whatever it takes.

Back to our departure. Mom ready to crater, her son already on my jet. I approached her from behind.

“We’ll take good care of him. It’ll be all right.” I’m lying. It’s the heart fractured into a thousand shards of smoked glass, hers, that will never be all right ever again. He’ll be okay–the kids usually are once they’re under way. They do their leaving before pushback; the parents are left on the death watch in the terminal. And kids on some level perceive that–so like I said, good-byes are best said at home.

“Look,” I offered, “you want me to call you when we get there? To let you know everything’s fine?’

She put her number into my phone, in tears. I walked onto my jet fighting mine. Parents everywhere get to do this, as some court decreed, over and over till the kids are old enough to decide travel and visitation details for themselves. It’ll never be easy–but make it the best it can be: set them up to be cared for enroute.

I texted the woman after we arrived, watching her little guy walk away with his “other family,” and I imagine she breathed a little easier. Not sure, but I know I did.

The Sky’s On Fire

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2010 by Chris Manno

To add audio to your experience, click here, start “Waltz in Blue,” adjust to a comfortable volume, then return here to read. Enjoy.



You can see this, right? I mean if you look:

That’s plain as day–well, late day–when it’s stuck in your face and you open your eyes. In fact I’m half blind squinting  straight into the arc weld shrinking into itself on the fringe of night, folding up the day and running off to the west. But that’s not all that sunset is nor all that’s whisked to the west and away.

Comes up like that too, doesn’t it? It’s the early time, bright golden light warming wings for flight, leaving the dew but taking the chill.

Fresh painted colors so blazing vivid because they’re new, and not just to the day, but also the season: it’s early summer. What a down-to-earth thing, this whole waking up to simple flight in every furious color of the rainbow. The hive’s alive, isn’t it? Launch to the four winds.

And worker bees don’t care about duration. Rather, it’s all about the flight; the getting and carrying and going then putting down. To get and carry some more, crisscrossing the landscape with studious intent. The sky’s full, abuzz, worker bees everywhere.

That’s the engine driven by daylight, roused by the sunrise–alarm clock!–always moving once warm and awake the swarm spreads east to west in the sky. Later is better, to me: I’m senior in the air, which means I don’t get up early any more to fly.

Sure, I vaguely remember “back in the day” when I did, when the coolest thing was dawn on the flight ramp, among the flock of big metal birds fueled and ready to split the air with the roar of jet engines. But this is now and I sleep later since I can; so yeah with the relentless hands of the clock, the dawn is behind me now and almost a piece of nostalgia anymore.

Guess folks leave the nest less wide-eyed the more wake-ups you stack end to end. Slower? Less color? The more comfy chair for you then?

Early, late–whatever the time, you HAVE to fly, to leave the hive eventually and take to the air. That’s what the day brings with the arc of the sun from the first sliver in the east that vanquishes the night. Those were the days, when dawn meant a new day of discovery, not just covering ground. Whatever happened was almost incidental, choreographed by others bigger and further along in their sunlight arc.

And when the light is brightest, the world at it’s hottest brightest best, it seems like moving is all anyone does, and so you fly too, making your rounds in the sky.

Follow them! Move, and move fast, from flower to flower; it’s what you have to do, what everyone does: noon is no time to rest. So we fly, like everyone else. Yeah we do.

So back to my original question: you can see all this unfolding, right? The greater significance of the flight, the ground crossed, the sun chase we never will win? Or am I seeing it because it’s in my face, but for you, only a sidelong glance.

You’re flying too but even though you’re going straight ahead, your only view is from side to side. You aren’t beak-to-beak, chasing the sun, tending the fires and logging the run.

The sun goes down slowly sidelong when you can’t see it slip lower, measuring it not only with the horizon–

–but also with the colors as they fade in the sun’s march with which we can’t keep up. It’s the subtle consolation prize from the lateness of the day: gold, goldeness as if lovely parting gifts: thanks for playing.

You can hardly remember the boldness of late spring cardinal colors–who gets up at dawn anyway, if you don’t have to–in the expiring light of day that slants and shrinks away.

Then you can almost do the geometry and see the arc quietly closing in on the horizon. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t have the pointy end horizon view, or don’t want to.

You have faith in where you’re going and on the way there, a glance outside is enough to see that we’re upright, that you’re still moving blossom to blossom, at least forward. And that’s enough for now anyway, right? Always that “now,” did you notice that?

But sunset’s about “then,” not now; “there,” not here. How many times enmeshed in our busy-bee flight of right now do we really think about “then?” About where that fireball’s headed, taking with it the warmth and the color and the day? Not just the end of flight, but the end of flying?

Colors fade, motion ceases, eventually. Not everyone flies past the golden sunset, you’d have to suppose but who really knows? I just fly the jet for you and though I often wonder what everyone does when they get “there,” I’m too soon taking off again, taking others wherever “there” is for them.

Look, it’s not my place to tell you how to bee–I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I just wanted to give you a heads-up on the revelation that you can only get from the front.

Yeah, the sky’s on fire. But that ain’t all that’s burning.

“Waltz in Blue” is original music by Chris Manno.

Copyright, Cyber-Sonic Music 2010


Bees and Flight, Darkness and Light.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by Chris Manno

Special Note: here’s a soundtrack designed for this essay–you can click on it to play it, then return to this window to read for “the full Monty” if you like.


Daylight is the fountain of youth, and there’s no shortage of seeming noonday above it all westbound.

That’s the way we go, backs to the east and the dawn that’s gone, west to the sun as fast as we can.

We’re younger back there and some of it’s hard to remember: dawn is the time of half awake, of coffee poured and routines started by rote and necessity that give way later to more elaborate undertakings.

Takes time to get your eyes open, to acclimate to the world in general and flight in particular. We’re younger, earlier, closer to the dawn; smaller than now but taking flight nonetheless. Doesn’t seem so long ago until you look back, and then the earlier flights are clearly a different time with different people.

The shine of everything, the newness before a thousand times over makes each seem more like an extra lash of the minute hand rather than a special moment. That was an era of firsts, of an undercurrent of discovery and faith that the cycle would be ever more new and larger ways to fly.

And all of them would last forever. Of course they would, it’s just from that particular momentous “now” that races behind us, linked inextricably to the dawn from which we’re always outbound, they did last forever–it’s just that we didn’t.

Inch by inch, our westbound flight does what we hardly notice as we follow the sun: things change, even as they stay the same. And there’s the conundrum of westbound flight.

The more we repeat the things that were “new” and exciting “firsts,” the less they are that and from the standpoint of time, the less room there is for truly new and exciting as we do diligence to the process. Family. Income. Lifestyle.

Running the machine composed of the endless gears of all that shiny pioneering, they require time and effort that limits the discovery that brought them into our time in the first place.

Still it’s ever westward, tailwind, headwind, bumpy or smooth–we’re on our way, keeping the sun as high as possible over that world of rare, short shelf life newness.

Yet there are those who fly who care little for the clock and the sun that at its highest arc warmed wings best for flight; even the key to navigation in relation to the westbound sun matters little though the routine flight is spectacular and with great purpose.

There’s no fear in this flight, oriented by the sun yet oblivious of the fireball’s second by second dip from the top of the sky, slinking to the west. No thought for the hazards that also awaken with the new day, disguised with jewel-like adornment that is night’s mourning of dawn’s heat, promising nothing but doom.

Relentless, westbound just the same, with lessening notice of the good or bad as the remarkable is subsumed into routine by repetition, blossom to blossom, noon till sundown and onward we fly.

Takes a herculean effort to not give in to the opiate of monotony. Almost have to pinch yourself, remind yourself exactly where you are. To acknowledge that the flight itself is as significant as the destination, maybe even more important: this is the now that’s fleeting, that is relegated over the shoulder toward the vanished forever dawn.

Face it: the cloud swing is moving, just as the sun is, ever west. Looking ahead, it may not seem so but looking down, the illusion is clear.  The gears turn now, but not forever and never the same as “back then.”

Because like the bee’s wings, they cool and move more sluggishly in the diminishing light. Not such a ready flex or easy reach as the day fades, but it’s still easy to underestimate the power of light and loss in the creeping of darkness. As time goes on, that requires more deliberate effort for any creature transcending the automaton-ish, hive-centric bee’s life.

If you do, you won’t be fooled by seemingly carefree flight that is borne more of indifference than courage.  Because what he doesn’t know–but you do–is this: the sun will win this race, fleeing westbound and eventually, leaving you without a shadow. The molten gold near the end is beautiful,

but darkness waits just beyond and as Swinburne warned, “. . . in the end it is not well.”  Bees go somewhere at night and eventually, don’t fly any more. If the sun shines brightest on the liveliest, then this is truly “the rest” of life.

To know or not know that ending won’t matter as much then as it does now while there’s still daytime left. Never mind the bees buzzing unconcerned around the fountain of youth, that’s the promise of light.

Soundtrack: “Stormy,” Chris Manno–Lead, Bass,  Drums.


The bee’s story: I was heading to breakfast in Nashville yesterday, getting ready for another day in the sky. Looked like he was doing the same, which got me to thinking. I’m lucky he didn’t sting me for sticking the camera in his face, but he seemed more interested in his collection business than in me. Or maybe he wanted to be part of this story . . .


Flight Lessons for Real Life

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

Most of what I’ve learned in over 17,000 flight hours–usually the hard way–applies on the ground in the big picture of life as well. Here are two primary lessons you can rely on whether you’re in either place:

1. There’s nothing more useless than runway behind you. The concrete behind you can do little good for you when things “change” and suddenly you have less space than you planned on to get up to speed. In real life? Forget shortcuts=start at the beginning: don’t waste any parts of the runway. Sure, First Officers tell me all the time, “we don’t need all of the runway–we’re light.” Yes, jet is lighter than planned so we don’t “need” it mathematically–until an engine ingests a bird at 35,000 rpm and destroys itself.

Then suddenly those mountains seem higher and like the end of the runway, not so far away. What does that mean in real life?

What did you take for granted? What precaution did you skip for convenience or because on paper, it didn’t seem necessary?

Personal decision? Nobody else’s business what you do as far as “precautions” because it’s your life? Well, does that apply to me too?

I’ve had passengers tell me they “don’t worry” about flying because “when your number’s up, it’s up.” I remind them that when my number’s up–theirs is too.  Because whatever applies to me applies to you when you’re on the jet I’m flying. And so it’s really not about me–rather, it’s about the hundreds a day who pay me to do what I do perfectly and in their best interest. Never mind what’s easy or convenient for me.

You?  Think there’s anyone depending on you and the decisions you make in the course of your life? Family? Business?

Okay, even if you don’t have the classic four piece set yet–when do you think is the time to do the preparation they’re counting on in order to have a smooth journey when they come on board with you?

What monumental yet tedious preparation would be nice to have behind you–rather than empty runway–when the challenges ahead demand every iota of advance preparation? Does it really matter down the runway what you might have skipped out of convenience a couple miles back?

So you tell me: do we really need all of that runway? Wouldn’t the mathematical minimum be sufficient? Can’t we deal with things later or if it’s easier now, not at all?

2. Don’t trust the weatherman. Why? Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Specifically, he’s looking to the past, predicting future outcomes based on historically similar circumstances. Two problems with that: first, you’re going to be dealing with the weather in the future, not the present and certainly not the past. And the weather guy will be the first to say, “things change.”

Second, no one has succeeded yet in crossing any bridge before they come to it–and the weatherman ain’t going to be with you when you do. Those who depend upon “experts” making predictions of future  outcomes based on past events will find themselves ill-served and alone if they base crucial decisions on a forecast–of weather forecast, financial, political or any critical issue. I prefer the simple way: assume the weather is going to be awful and prepare accordingly. What’s the worst case scenario, and how to I bail myself out when it comes to pass? Then, if the weather’s nice–oh well, we’re safe, happy, secure.

But if the weather’s awful: you’re a prepared. No one rewards you for fortune-telling; being ready for everything makes you the genius everyone was counting on you to be. As with number one above–it really isn’t about only you.

Experts can predict a forecast that suggests that umbrellas aren’t really necessary. We know how that goes . . .

If you rely solely on the predictions of those outlining the future by peering into the past, you could be in for an interesting fight for your life well down the road.

Okay, that’s it for me nagging. The point is, most of what has become a culturally normative standard of individuality is completely irrelevant in the life or death business of flight. Looking for motivation? Or, have someone who needs a little push in their life because of the way the life plan affects others? Feel free to forward this post to them:

Diligence is dull stuff, on the ground or in the air. People count on their pilot to do what is prudent and safe no matter what effect that has on the “free choice” or convenience of the pilot. I affirm the commitment passengers expect when they strap in behind me. It’s all a part of the duty that comes hand in hand with the privileges inherent in the position at the controls. Anything less is simply unworthy of the trust others who count on you have placed in you–in flight, and in life.

. . . and okay, here’s the rest of the Chris Farley “motivational speech:”

Air Travel: How to Fly with Children

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by Chris Manno

Travel season’s here and it’s time to round up the kids and head for the airport. There are many things you need to know to make your trip with your kids smoother. Here are some important tips based on my 25 years as an airline pilot:

1. Educate beforehand: kids need to visualize what’s going to happen at security before they experience it firsthand. Like their first trip to the dentist, they need to be prepared for an unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable environment with a different set of rules from their normal life.

The fact that they can be separated from you by the TSA is scary enough unless they understand the process. Plus, whatever stuffed animal or toy they may carry for personal reassurance is going to have to be scanned separately. Talk it up ahead of time! Make it a game–“you’re going to walk through the arch between mommy and daddy.” There may be a magic wand involved (see above). Teddy’s going to ride the conveyor belt inside a duffle bag (please do–I’ve seen stuffed animals caught in the rollers and shredded to the horror of a little one).

Let your child know that you might be singled out for screening, which can be scary for a child.

If possible, tag team: one parent goes through and waits for the child or children on the secure side. Never send a child through first to wait–if you’re detained for further screening, you will be separated from your unsupervised child.

Hand carried items: this is a problem. You’ll have enough to carry just to support a child’s travel, so try to minimize loose items by making sure all hand-carried bags have some type of closing device to keep items inside. Open containers or bags will inevitably spill their toys, crayons, books and food when jostling through the security screening machine. Backpacks for elementary school aged kids make sense: they can carry them and still have hands free, and backpacks can be closed with drawstrings and zippers.

Make a total count of bags ahead of time–“we have three bags and a stroller”–and make it a game: “Mommy said 4 items.” Count and gather items on the secure side.  Tag everything and tie a colored ribbon or string on each item–kids will help find the color or label you choose, so make it distinctive. If you leave anything behind at the security checkpoint by mistake, chances are slim that you’ll ever see it again. In the chaos of gathering clothing, shoes, bags and kids, it’s important to inventory all for items before leaving the area for your gate.

2. At the gate: get a tag from the agent for your stroller. But before leaving home, get a protective bag for the stroller or car seat. Both Target and Baby’s-R-Us have them for around $20, and you do need one to keep the stroller or car seat clean.

Protect your stroller or car seat.

Also, the bag will keep loose or losable parts together, or at least in one bag–we find loose pieces of stroller trays and accesories all over the ramp and in the cargo compartment of the plane.  Cargo handling is an ungentle, dirty business–the cargo hold is not clean, nor are those other bags smashed in with yours or actually, the hands that handle the gazillion bags a day. Cover your stroller or car seat and keep the dirt and grime out of your infant or toddler’s food chain. Plus, on your return trip, you can stuff a world of used laundry into the bag as well as the seat or stroller.

Should your infant be gnawing on any of this?

Find yourself a spot at the gate that allows your little one(s) some space to expend a little energy. Consult the airport guide to find any kids’ playgrounds, a great idea that’s making its way into more and more airports. Usually, they are corralled off from the main traffic areas, allowing kids to run and play–something that presents a tripping hazard for kids and adults in the regular gate area.

Kid's Zone in the Detroit Airport

Check on-line to see if your airport has one, or just ask an agent or passenger service person. Just keep track of time, and be sure to listen carefully for gate change announcements while you’re there.

3. Food and water: here’s a more in-depth discussion of food while flying, but here are a few hints tailored to parents and kids. First, the MacDonald’s Kid’s meal in the airport?

Maybe–but only in the airport food court. Dragging this messy meal in flimsy containers on board–especially given everything else you have to carry–is a bad idea. There’s really no elbow room on board, which kid’s require to eat like kids do, plus there’s no way to contain the mess or clean it up afterward.

In the above-linked discussion, I make this important point: it’s not about eating on the plane–it’s about not being hungry. If you can’t feed your child right before the flight, be sure to have non-perishable, non-crushable or non-spillable snacks stashed in your hand-carried bag. Don’t count on any in-flight snacks which may not be kid-friendly (Does your toddler like beef jerky? Potted meat?) and are subject to the on-board service schedule and availability: once they’re sold out, that’s it.

Bring snacks and water for everyone. Again, don’t count on the inflight service which may be delayed or in case of turbulence, canceled altogether. Bring what you and your child will need!

4. Sanitation: the aircraft is known to many flight attendants as “The Flying Petrie Dish.” This is another good reason not to bring a meal on board: the aircraft isn’t really clean. Bring hand-sanitizer, plus wipes for your seat’s armrests, tray table and anywhere a small child is likely to touch.

$2.99 at Costco

Save yourself a cold or worse down the road: wipe down the common areas within your child’s reach.

5. Ears and pressurization: although modern jetliners have automatic cabin pressure controllers with very gradual rates of change during ascent and descent, little ears can be sensitive to the changes anyway. Be sure that your child is not congested due to a cold or such and if so, consider an over the counter children’s decongestant to ensure they can clear their ears. Some parents have had good luck with having their kids drink during descent, which requires swallowing, which helps equalize pressure between the inner and outer ear.

You’ll need to be prepared: bring something to drink in a container. Flight attendants are required to collect all service items in preparation for landing and so will not be offering or serving any beverages.

6. Deplaning: Inventory time! How many bags? Contents–particularly stuffed animals–returned to the bag (check the floor around your seat) and bags closed! Do this on descent–don’t wait till everyone behind you on the plane is trying to deplane! Be ready.

With my youngest on a trip, we once discovered the tragedy of a missing teddy bear after we got home. So now we actually have roll call of all traveling stuffed animals at the hotel and on the plane.

Much easier than having to call the hotel and prepay the shipping for a somewhat threadbare but much needed bear. Trust me. Check seatback pockets thoroughly too for things you or your children might have stashed and forgotten about.

7. Department of “Duh:” Shouldn’t have to say this, but some people don’t seem to even think about this nastiness, so here goes.

Don’t change a diaper at your seat. The aircraft lavs all have pull-down changing tables for that purpose.

And that’s the correct place to handle that matter. Literally, speaking of that “matter” or material, would you want my Uncle Fred to change his diaper on your row?

The only difference in the “matter” is in quantity, not content (well, Uncle Fred likes anchovies, but still). Yes, it’s your cute little one, but it still is what it is and everyone on the plane wants to not share the experience and scent.

Thanks, Uncle Fred.

And seriously: DON’T hand the used diaper to a flight attendant! Or DO NOT plan to have them dispose of it in the meal cart (I know, it’s incredible, but people do). Put the diaper in a barf bag and dispose of it in the lavatory waste bin. Again, no one on the plane–particularly the crew–wants to get involved with anyone else’s bodily waste. Would you?

You want me to take WHAT?

Actually, there are more helpful travel hints for parents traveling with children, but this will do for now. If you only master these items alone, your trip will be smoother and more enjoyable.

Have a great trip–and if you have any other helpful travel tips, send them to me and I’ll add them!

Sweet Tart Time Warp: The Three Hour Sunset

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, cruise ship, cruising, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

You point the nose west and settle into cruise and it finally hits you: this sunset doesn’t want to end. That’s the moment when the past catches up with the present and lets you in on a little secret about the future. That is, time depends on where you’re going. Long? Short? Brief? Interminable? It’s all a question of direction.

As a kid in fourth grade I had pretty much worked out the science of this revolutionary discovery using my newly acquired mathematical tools like long division and multiplication, scratching calculations on three ring binder paper while downing Sweet Tarts for brain fuel and watching Dick Van Dyke Show reruns. According to my calculations, if I flew west to east at just the right speed, given the turning of the earth below and my jet’s speed, time would stand still because I’d be over the exact same spot. Kind of a grade school version of the geosynchronous orbit.

Fast forward to my adulthood and the opportunity to examine that theory from my present job site at thirty-plus thousand feet and .77 Mach.

One thing I hadn’t accounted for in my grade school theorizing was the fact that as an airline pilot and an adult, I’d be lazy enough (and senior enough) to not fly early in the morning. So I’d be flying mostly east to west, joining the tide of blinking strobes creasing the sky late in the day, sailing to the coast. And in that physical reality, I find that I was halfway right: the sunset goes on forever as we chase the sun west.

But in the most part–damn the math and Sweet Tarts–I was just plain old wrong. No geosynchronous orbit. Not time standing still. But the important lesson: time depends on where you’re going. That’s a matter of proportion and substance, not speed and duration. Here’s why.

This sunset was observed at sea level. Actually, nine decks up from sea level and it should be noted, on a cruise ship with a camera and a vodka tonic in hand rather than Sweet Tarts and a number two pencil. Two other factors are fundamentally different as well.

The ship was cruising at a leisurely twenty knots, rather than my work-related obligatory four hundred plus knot cruise speed. And in the second clause is the most significant distinction: work. At altitude, I’m at work. At sea level–especially at sea–I’m not.

That seaside sunset lasted about two minutes. The week long cruise in retrospect seems now more like a matter of a day or two. But the months leading up to the cruise–and especially the maintenance-delayed flight to the port city–seemed like forever.

By contrast, once the jet’s landing gear is tucked into the gear wells, time slows to a creep. There’s the inverse relationship: at high speed and high altitude, time drags slower than Christmas.

By contrast, sea level–“sea” being a key word, particularly on a beach or a cruise ship–when not at work flies by like a lightning bolt, a brilliant flash disappearing in a squiggly swirl of smoke and landing somewhere far away. The thunder lingers, like the stack of vacation pictures, but predictably fades with time till you can only barely remember the original brilliance.

Same way with parenthood, and families and important events and people. Gone in a flash, yet the times in between seem to drag on. Not that there aren’t dazzling views on the way, incidental in only the fact that they’re unanticipated, but breathtaking nonetheless.

And it would be shortsighted to discount all the friends and family and events waiting ahead in unanticipated places and times of equally rewarding experiences encountered along the way to the next “big event.”

Maybe the real secret is this: the whole journey is the big deal; the events just the waypoints along the way. Maybe it never was about a geosynchronous life, hovering over a here and now. Maybe in the interminable sunset between events–the time warp–there’s also a meaningful now that sets into relief the precious moments of past and present.

So maybe there’s no time warp after all, and fourth grade math and youthful perspective not withstanding, no need for it either. The real deal is in the journey and whether at five hundred miles and hour or ten, sea level or flight level, you’re speeding onward nonetheless.

Hard as it is to admit, the times in between the momentous events are the majority of the journey, rather than the sideshow. Never mind long division–I always suspected it would lead to no good–and I’ll take the Vodka tonic over the Sweet tarts nowadays. But from the time from of fourth grade to forty-plus, one thing is clear: time, distance, place and people go by too quickly when you don’t want them to.

I think I’ll spend a little more time concentrating on the ride. Long or short, there are only so many sunsets to go.

Altitude and the Neverlasting “Now.”

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, elderly traveller, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2010 by Chris Manno

The sneaky seduction of altitude is this: the higher you fly, the faster you can go but the more difficult it is to perceive the speed.

At cruise altitude, the arch of the earth or the depths of the ocean are mere backdrop for passage. From a contemplative perch made of the lightest material possible in a thin-skinned cocoon inches from sub-freezing, anemically thin air, the perspective and distance makes the otherworldly, near-Mach speed seem like a lazy float in a cloud swing.

The monumental seems miniscule because the miles-high magic of perspective paints the infinite details with a brush broadened by altitude rendering the monolithic perceptible in a glance–an impossibility from the ground.

Once the Earth falls away, the crags and mottled rocks and bare washes recede into a more perfect rugged beauty most apparent in the wide angle vantage point of altitude, a newborn epic revelation.

And the lazy cloud swing breezes through effortless miles over a rolling tapestry of preternatural vistas from here to there, a “now” with a spectacular view,

a footless, rootless, colossal impossible God’s-eye-view of the fastest way to there, wherever that is today.

That’s difficult to imagine from the surface, particularly when the struggle to get into the air seems as insurmountable as the miles to go. Even once under way but still shackled with the twin albatrosses of gravity and crowding, “now” masquerades as forever.

Waiting–Keats’ “foster child of silence and slow time”– renders the present a shuffling laggard, and speed a distant mirage like tomorrow or yesterday. “There” and “then,” the double-play of anticipation, never seem more impossibly far away and “now” a more wearisome isolation from where we’re headed and who we’re going to see.

And yet that’s the closest we ever really are to each other, wandering life, vagabonds bound by the commonality of where we aren’t yet, but are headed for–which is always some particular there. The tedious details of the strangled moment are forgettable snapshots as they present themselves, but in truth they’re truly the imprint of the best, most fleeting treasures of our lives:

This is how we were then. Look how small the kids were! And how young we were. Like the magical clarity borne of altitude, the distance of time paints a whole new picture. And the pictures side by side reveal the awful truth: time is a thief.

Let’s face it: compared to the breathtaking perspective of the sky view, the grounded here and now seems like a sideshow–even when it really is the other way around. Maybe it’s the tedium of now, the obligations, the faults and close up detail of “now” that falls away when you leave the Earth relegates the “here and now” to the status of ugly stepchild to “there” and “then” of destination.

Like the ruddy details of a landscape vanishing into the miles-high montage below a jet flight, the ticking seconds hide in the tearing off of calendar pages. But like the imperfections of wilderness, they are nonetheless the essence of our lives, the reality that makes life what it is rather than the illusion of how it appears from a distance of time or place.

That masks the real culprit–relentless time–and lets him go about his silent ruination of everything precious now under the guise of everything yet to come.

You pay me to hide that from you, and I do my best.

Though time and distance seems non-existent in the speed and altitude of flight, that’s because I’m handling those culprits, sweating them for us all. Time is fuel. Speed is distance. And neither is flexible or endless, because time is not our friend.

We have an appointment with gravity and energy that is ticking our way, hiding behind broadest view of time and distance and the breathless, breathtaking journey between them.

There’s a big plan for our little journey,

and in bringing it to a successful close, it’s easy to forget that what’s for me a workday process is for all of us a passage nonetheless. I try to keep in mind that the seduction of altitude is but ample cover for the thief of time tiptoeing silently by in the seconds barely evident in the calendar’s march. At least I won’t let him steal away unnoticed.

The sneaky seduction of altitude and its supernatural view is also its greatest secret, if you pause long enough to take it apart like an old watch:

The outer face tells an elegant story, but means nothing without the myriad interlocking details that make it tick. A sleek jet at shotgun speed is a beautiful sight rocketing overhead.

But nonetheless, it’s our mundane day-to-day litany of close-up imperfection and routine but precious interlocking lives that is the miracle. A fleeting miracle, despite the stunning trickery of high altitude sightseeing that hides the all-important ticking details in favor of something down the road beyond the reality of now.

And it’s not a fair trade-off, because as Bella Abzug promised, maybe we weren’t at the Last Supper, but we’re certainly going to be at the next one.

On the way, I plan to drag my feet as long as possible in each fleeting but precious mile-high and down-to-earth heartbeat of the neverlasting now.



Flight Time In Dog Years

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, dog kennel, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by Chris Manno

This flight flung me back to the dog pound. Just trying to get into the cockpit, and boom: flashback to the day I divorced my dog.

There was no one left in the boarding area when I tromped down the jetbridge about ten minutes prior to scheduled departure. I’d been up in Flight Operations printing a new flight plan after a major route change to avoid the severe weather over Tennessee and Kentucky I knew we’d read about in the next morning’s headlines.

Hadn’t met the Number Four flight attendant yet, but she was planted squarely in the doorway. No “Hello, my name is,” nor opportunity for me to do the same. Rather, hands on hips, looking at me like it was my fault, she said, “The woman in 4-F wants to know if her dog got on.”

She got a couple seconds of grace time as I struggled to not say something smartassed. Like most flight attendants, she was a pro at handling people, and handled me too: “He’s in there pushing buttons,” she said, jerking a thumb at my First Officer, “so he’s busy.” But before she could ask me if I’d go down to the ramp and poke my head into the forward cargo compartment and page 4-F’s dog, I slipped past her, saying, “Yeah, ten minutes prior to pushback I have a few buttons to push too.”

That’s when the flashback smacked me in the face: the look in her eyes, having been sidestepped, was the look in my dog’s eyes as he drove away. Not really disappointed, because she wasn’t that invested in 4-F’s dog. Rather, it was a problem solving-thing, a rearrangement, the details that would get us all under way peacefully, dog or no.

Same with Gus, my ex-dog. He lived his life with that look, the notion spelled out in his eyes that like my flight attendant colleague, was all about getting on with it. Maybe because he was a pound-mutt, a Retriever-Chow mix, stoic as his Mongolian ancestors which tempered the Retriever friskiness: he was the perfect dog. Time spent in the pound gave him an ex-con’s wariness, as if a skepticism about how “the time” was going to go overruled assurances and even a prescribed sentence.

Gus, the beer drinking, baseball watching perfect dog.

But on a jet? I know every airline charges substantial fee to bring a dog on board. Since the all-important 4-F dog wasn’t in the cabin, I assumed it was probably too large and so had incurred an even larger shipping fee below decks in the cargo hold.

Clearly, this was about somebody wanting something important from their dog, not vice versa, because I’ve seen dogs crammed into the cargo hold in kennels.  Not a cool way to travel.

This trip was about the dog’s owner and so more than the welfare of the dog, the question of whether he was on board had everything to do with what the owner wanted.

That was the reason for divorcing my dog: I wanted what was best for him, not me.

Our time together started out simple: a neighbor kid fed and watered Gus when I was flying; at home, we had baseball nights alone. For a while there, I indulged his expensive taste in beer: he turned his nose up at anything but RedDog once he’d tried it. An Amstel Light for me, a couple ounces of RedDog for Gus. It got to be too much, having to buy a separate–and more expensive–beer for the dog: it was like having company all the time.

Take it or leave it, pal.

We drove everywhere in my old Blazer, the back seats down so he could walk around and fall down a lot–he never grasped centrifugal force–singing bawdy dog lyrics to old Beatles CD’s (“I wanna mount your leg . . . and when I hump you I feel happy, inside . . .”) which was all well and good while it lasted.

Then came the girlfriend. I’d had “girlfriends,” but this was and still is the one. We got married. Built a house. Had a child. And Gus got edged out bit by bit: time and baseball and beer drinking (he NEVER had to go to the bathroom and looked at me like “you whimp” when I had to by the fifth inning) gave way to a re-engineered household and lifestyle, joyous for us; for Gus, not so much. He was an outdoor dog–had to literally drag him inside in bad weather–and too rough for the new house; too big around a newborn.

But then I knew my old baseball and Beatles pal still needed–and deserved–time and attention. He was near ten by then and I knew he wasn’t, in the twilight of his dog years, going to get it from me.

I put an ad in the paper. Rejected several families after the “interview:” nope, not sending Goose into a worse situation.

Then an old broken down sedan pulled up, huffed a mighty sigh and died. The driver’s door swung open and a disheveled man stood. A scruffy looking boy climbed out of the back seat.

Through thick Spanglish, the story unfolded. His German Shepard, best friend for all of his five years, had died. They saw the ad; hoped maybe they could find the right dog; no money for adoption. They had a yard and a vacant lot, all fenced. Gus could run, would get the attention he needed.

And that was that. He drove off, not even looking back, all about the “now,” as dogs seem to be. Tomorrow doesn’t exist, yesterday doesn’t matter any more. Bye.

The flight interphone cracked to life in my headset. “Ground to cockpit,” came the Crew Chief’s voice on the ramp below. “You guys ready up there?”

And I wondered to myself: is that what you do if you’re a dog’s best friend? Keep him with you at all costs? Or send him off–or below in a cage–and continue on “there” or wherever no matter what? The cargo hold? A beater sedan?

“No,” I answered, unstrapping. My First Officer gave me a “what the hell?” look as I stepped out of the cockpit. The agent, too, looked startled. “Be right back.”

Out through the jetbridge, down the stairs to the ramp. The guidemen with their wands and day-glo vests eyed me quizzically. I ducked under the fuselage, over to the forward cargo door a ground crew woman was about to close. “Wait.”

I leaned into the chest high cargo door, letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. There.

Medium sized kennel; medium sized dog. So far so good. “Hey buddy, you okay?” I ignored the ground crew woman’s stare burning a hole in my back. Five minutes till push, I knew she was thinking, we’ve got to get moving.

Brown eyes stared back. Some kind of beagle; nice looking dog. Same Gus eyes, too: not sure where I am, or where I’m headed, but let’s get on with it. Maybe even a little bit sardonic, like Gus sitting quietly as I take the mandatory fifth inning plumbing break: you wuss.

I turned to the ramper waiting to close the door. “Okay.” Back under the fuselage, up the jetbridge stairs. I brushed past the still befuddled  gate agent and strapped back into my seat. The dog’s about the now, the getting there, hopefully to a better place. Maybe a double yard with room to run; a little boy who’ll fill up his world again.

“Okay to shut the cabin door?” the agent asked, “Everything good up here?”

Good? Well, probably not beer and baseball, or at least not RedDog. But a better world, so the trip would be okay.

“Yeah,” I answered, flipping on all six fuel boost pumps overhead and arming the engine igniters. “Let’s get on with it.”



View from above: “Where am I?”

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, elderly traveller, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by Chris Manno

Like life in general, flying can beat you up. But I learned a trick from one of my Air Force flying buddies who is now a captain at Fedex.  He’d endured days of long hours in the air, most at night, with schedule changes and sleep disruptions and all of the physical challenges that flight crews must surmount each trip. Eventually, he found himself suddenly half awake in a strange hotel and in the semi-conscious haze of waking, intensified by the days of sleep disruption and flight re-routing, he couldn’t for the life of him remember what city he was in. So he called the toll-free number for Crew Scheduling and asked, “where am I?”

If you’ve been on a flight crew, you’ve been there, waking up and sometimes, grasping at where in the hell, besides some hotel, somewhere, am I? But rather than giving Crew Schedule something to laugh about, I do my buddy’s next best technique, which is actually easier: I fumble through the night stand till I find the phone book. Okay, I must be in Cleveland.

This is important because I’d like to think I know where I am, though that may seem unnecessarily obvious if you wake up in your own town most of the time. But once you enter the time and space and place tumbler that is the flight crew world, you’re going to feel sheepish when, as I have done, you pull up to an airport and notice the signs announcing “Welcome to Portland” when all night you’ve had in the back of your mind that you were in Seattle.

Nobody will know but you, of course, but that rankles for a couple of reasons, which I’ll get to.

First, I have to contrast that with days I remember as a kid in upstate New York, particularly in the abomination they call winter weather, which extends well into spring. I’d spend hours bundled up but outside pursuing what might be the worthiest of endeavors for a grade school kid: poking something with a stick, hopefully something weird or dead otherwise new and fun for the pack of us roaming the snowscape.

Never mind that my little sister was in tears about having to wear a parka over her Easter dress because we were having another white Easter, because I just assumed that everyone in the world had the same brutal weather and so the misery was of no consequence–it was just life. I didn’t find out about Florida till later.

At first glance, it would seem that I’d do better today with the same mindset. Maybe life would be better if I didn’t worry about whether I was in Cleveland or Detroit either physically or mentally, and spent a little more time and attention searching for interesting things to poke with a stick. I could just resign myself to the coldness of life, same everywhere, no worries about Ponce de Leon discovering Florida and not incidentally, warmth.

But there’s exactly the problem: as an adult, you know better. You realize time’s not infinite, that there are other, warmer places. And you’re not there.

It’s the last part that we deliberately forget, or lose track of after a few days in the time and place scrambler that is flight crew life. But it’s the former that is the grievous sin: we block out better places and like me as a kid in winter, assume that’s just the way life is as the clock and calendar march on regardless. That’s what rankles.

A 2008 government “Time Use Survey” reports that the average adult spend 7.5 hours per weekday on job-related activity. After work, the average man spent 3.5 hours watching television, with women only slightly behind with 3.2 hours. Given the requisite time averages for personal maintenance such as food, hygiene, and sleep, most of the waking day is consumed with mindless, often passive “stuff.”

When you stop and really think about that, it’s much like fighting for consciousness in a strange hotel in some place you may have assumed in your head was your location. Or like my childhood self, you just assumed that where you were was where and how everyone was in their lives as well. That truth cuts to the bone because it’s truly the acknowledgment that you’ve lost touch with the reality of your place in life.  And in a real way, you have: the touchstones of meaningful place are gone and you’re adrift, not really aware of your spot in the world. Hour by hour, the day is subsumed by the mundane, by routine. It’s cold, but it’s cold everywhere, right, according to the kid in you?

Yet it would be a mistake for me–or you–to wish for more time to do as we did when we were kids, blissfully oblivious of time, poking stuff with a stick. Because according to the government  report, that’s about all we do anyway: television, sleep, eat, work, television; Cleveland, Detroit, lather, rinse, repeat. Though that’s clearly what most folks do, as I assumed in grade school, it’s not all there is to do, nor is there endless time in which to do it.

When you were ten, the voyage seemed endless. Now, I recall approaching forty and joking with an already fifty-something first officer that I’d be joining him soon in middle age. He just raised a hand and looking at the endless sky ahead, said, “you’re on your own there–not too many hundred and somethings out there.” Hmmmmm.

So just change course, right? Pretty simple? Once in the dead of winter I told a staffer at our layover hotel in Toronto that if I were her, I’d get in the car and drive south until I could stick my head out the window at sixty miles per hour and NOT die of exposure. She laughed, we laughed, but nonetheless nothing changed for either of us. Both still at work here and there, running on the hamster wheel at the usual pace.

How difficult it is, as I described, to wake up. But somehow, you must find the phone book, or call crew schedule, or find a local paper or whatever it takes to wake up and figure out, to know where you really are. And to realize that although yes, a lot of people are in the exact same place–it’s neither the only nor best, warmest place.

Because the reality is, the hours I spend and the miles I fly will someday end. It’s important to know that I spent them doing more than just poking stuff with a stick or mindlessly sleepwalking fitfully through a years-long  journey only to wake up and find that I’m not where I thought I was–or really wanted to be. When I see the sign at the end I want to say, “yep, that’s what I figured.”

I’ll head that way today by hugging my bride and kids close and really see them, see where home is, where the warm place is. Then I’m off to the airport, home again tonight. That’s really where I want to be, need to be, no matter where I might have to go in between.


Zoom lens focused on “The Boneyard” in Tuscon, where old aircraft live out their final days.

“Far Away” revisited.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, elderly traveller, flight crew, flight delays, jet, parenthood, passenger, patriotism, pilot, travel, unaccompanied minors, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

“There’s no such place as far away.” Richard Bach, the “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” guy wrote that, and my parents sent the booklet to me for Christmas, my first Christmas oh-so-far away. They were in Italy–my father an Air Force officer–and I was on Okinawa in the South China Sea at the far side of the globe, also an Air Force officer and pilot. And let me tell you: Mr. Bach notwithstanding, there most certainly is “far away.”

I see it every work day, and I’m just one guy, one journeyman airline pilot. But let me share with you what all aircrew members know, because we’re your silent partners in “far away,” wherever and whenever you go. It’s mostly good, considering those who go because they want to, because they’ve waited so long and now the big trip’s here. I notice the wedding dress in the garment bag hung carefully in the forward closet. I root for you on your big day, am proud of the flight attendants who send you off with something special, because they care.

I root for the old couple–I’ll push your wheelchair, have pushed it for you–bravely going where they can without a thought about “next year,” much less tomorrow, just courageously embarking on their journey of the precious “now” despite limitations life and age have foisted on them.

We see the reality, the distance of “far away” in you when you’re going where you will go but more poignantly, in the eyes of those who must go: the children, like a nomad flock, of divorce. The “unaccompanied minors” as they’re tagged, suspended between divorced parents on holidays and vacations. We see it in the child’s eyes, knowing there’s a loved one to leave, a loved one to rejoin. I’ve shared the tears of a mom, swearing with all my heart that it would be okay, that I would call from the destination and let her know her son was all right, safe with the other parent he also misses.

We’ve seen it with the thousands of silently dedicated young troops we carry too far away. I’ve promised them each, “finish your duty here and I will gladly bring you home.”

And we do. Home to families, back from far away,

whatever it takes, a solemn promise from your silent partner in far away, we will bring you home.

Getting there is what matters, and we see the people on both ends: those you leave, and those you meet. Whether you land at home or far away, I see that in your faces one by one as you deplane. And I really look hard as I say thank-you and good-bye, because that’s what I keep in mind each and every time I take-off, fly and land the jet, following the exact procedure, using all of my years of experience, perfectly every time, night and day, here, there–everywhere.

And that’s the main reason I do and to me, near or far–it’s all the same. Because the secret of “far away” is this: it only seems so, it only matters, because there is a home to go back to. That’s a good thing.

Yes, we are the agent of faraway, but also the angel of home. When you’re ready, we will bring you home. That, without fail, I promise you.


In case you ever wondered: yes, there is such a thing. Chocolate’s rare, but the best.

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