The Bare Essentials of Air Travel

A man has been taken to a hospital for evaluation after he was spotted walking naked around Dulles International Airport. -- Associated Press

Washington Post: The Naked Man stood in the security line at Dulles Airport. People were staring at him. Since he’d arrived, he’d had to endure plenty of stares. And plenty of comments, too.

He’d heard, “Your landing gear is showing” and “It’s TSA, not T&A.” One guy had shouted, “Hey, buddy, please stow your tray table, and return your seat to its upright position.”

The Naked Man didn’t quite understand that one, but there was plenty he didn’t understand about air travel these days.

Flying used to be glamorous. People dressed up for it, as if they might be photographed by paparazzi. Flying on a jet was like visiting the Playboy Mansion. Now, though, passengers looked like slobs. Young men wore tank tops and shorts. Young women dressed as if they were going to a slumber party. They shuffled aboard in pajamas, with inflatable neck pillows hanging off their backpacks like wine-filled goat’s bladders.

Well, if that’s the way they were going to be, he’d show them. He’d really dress down.

And it used to be you could arrive at the gate mere minutes before your plane took off. Now you had to be there hours in advance. These days, the trip to the airport and the waiting at the airport were often longer than the flight itself.

Then the questions: Did you pack this bag yourself? Did anyone ask you to carry anything? Did you ever let your suitcase out of your sight?

That was only the beginning. Next came the ritual disemboweling of the carry-on luggage: the removal of liquids and gels, the pulling out the laptop and putting it in a tray.

And then the promenade through the magnetometer. Bzzzip! Sir, do you have any metal on you? Just my keys. Put them in the bin, sir. Bzzzip! Is there anything else? My watch? It has a leather band. I thought it would be fine. Please remove it, sir. Bzzzip! Is there any change in your pocket, sir? Any pens, pencils, cuff links, pocket knives, scissors, thimbles, snuffboxes, slide rules, ball bearings, sterling silver inkwells, ferrous meteorites, stainless steel curtain rod finials?

Today, there would be nothing in his pockets. He had no pockets.

No one saw the Naked Man off at the airport — he’d driven by himself — but he thought back with fondness to the way departures used to be. You could accompany your loved ones right to the gate, hug them goodbye, kiss them passionately, as if they were flying off to Casablanca, then watch as their airplane pulled back from the accordioned jetway and taxied away. If you had the patience and the vantage point, you could watch the plane actually take off and become a smaller and smaller dot in the sky, until it was lost among the clouds.

Now, though, the signs said “Ticketed Passengers Only Beyond This Point.” You made your distracted farewells in a clot near the security line, then stood awkwardly as your loved ones joined the zigzagging queue. Did you slip away now? Or did you wait till they were through to the “airside”?

Taking loved ones to the airport these days was as romantic as hurling them aboard a freight elevator. And as for the act of flying itself, the less said the better. You’d be better off fashioning wings from feathers and wax.

The Naked Man was snapped out of his reverie by shouts and the sound of pounding feet. He was knocked to the floor by a blue and black phalanx. The floor, he noticed, was cold against his skin and for the first time he began to question his decision to travel nude.

“Sir,” a uniformed officer said as he lifted the Naked Man rudely to his feet, “you have to come with me. Passengers must wear clothes.”

“You don’t understand,” the Naked Man said. “I’m not a passenger. I’m a pilot.”


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