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National Columnists

The Village Idiot: Grounded for life

Jim Mullen
Jim Mullen

Almost every strange story I’ve read in the newspaper or seen on TV these past few months seems to have happened on an airplane.

One woman makes a habit of sneaking onto planes without a ticket. She seems to get caught about twice a year. And does a day go by lately when someone doesn’t have to be tied down by other passengers for trying to open the exit door at 30,000 feet? Does a day go by when someone isn’t dragged off a plane by police or gets kicked off for acting inappropriately?

We’ve all read the stories, and the first thing that comes out of our mouths is, “What were they thinking?”

Unfortunately, that’s the wrong question. The first question, when something happens with no reasonable explanation, should be, “Was there alcohol involved?”

And these are only the cases we hear about. Who knows how many people have been stopped at the gate who we never hear about because they aren’t on YouTube.

How many times has something bizarre happened and no one was filming with their cellphone at that exact moment? I don’t know about you, but sometimes my cellphone is in my pocket. And I often use it to speak to people and completely forget to film my every waking moment with it.

I often wonder where disturbed people get the money to fly. I don’t travel often because it’s expensive – not so much the flight, but the bottle of water that costs
99 cents outside the airport terminal and $4.50 inside. Yet something tells me the naked guy trying to force open the exit door midflight has parked his Yugo in the $24-an-hour short-term parking lot. What does he care? He’s not planning to pay the bill.

OK, one wild guess on what he does for a living: software engineer. I hear they burn money for fun.

I’m not trying to be unsympathetic. I can understand being claustrophobic on an airplane, or driven crazy by that one woman six rows behind you who sounds like she’s sitting right next to you. She has that kind of voice that follows you wherever you go, and she will not stop using it.

There’s no place to escape – not from her, or from the couple with the screaming 3-year-old who cannot be placated in front of you.

Yes, the seat in front of you that seems to be pressing closer and closer to you, feeling like it soon will crush you if you don’t get out of your seat and, and, and – we still haven’t taken off yet.

I can understand wanting to get up and get into the aisle, but that still doesn’t explain taking off your clothes and opening the exit door. That’s a stretch I’m not willing to make. But I can see how a person can snap.

Still, from now on, if that guy needs to get somewhere, he should drive. Besides, he’s been banned from that airline for life. But as a nonfrequent flyer, I wonder: If you’re banned from one airline, do they tell all the other airlines? Something tells me no!

The other thing that makes the news all the time is people trying to bring “emotional support animals” onto planes. Let me be clear about this: I am not talking about trained service animals. They are special beyond words. But recently someone tried to fly with a large peacock, claiming it was an emotional support animal. My first question would be, “Why don’t you have an emotional support human? Is it because of the peacock?” The peacock may be causing your problem, not solving it.

I know, many of our pets are “members of the family,” but that doesn’t mean they all get to travel with us. Then again, I’m sure we’d all prefer animals in the seats next to us rather than some of our human relatives.

A 10-hour flight next to crazy Uncle George? No thanks. Is that seat next to the peacock available?

• Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist. Email him at

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