The Delicate Art of Drinking While Airborne

Drinking While Flying

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 for 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. 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

A number of variables need to be considered when ordering. Is it before 10am? A bloody mary will get you 30 percent 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.

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, Arizona, for instance, who I once spotted 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.

The Imbiber is Dan Dunn, the country’s preeminent rockstar booze writer. His upcoming book, Living Loaded: A tale of sex, salvation and the pursuit of the never-ending happy hour, will be released by Random House in January 2011. Follow him on Twitter.