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Everything You Need to Know About Flying (Abroad)
But were Afraid to Ask (For Fear of Sounding Like a Bumpkin)

By Zalin Grant
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During the past thirty years I have flown on everything from shot-up helicopters in Vietnam to the gleaming, turtle-waxed airplane used by the President of the United States. My work as a journalist or simple curiosity has taken me to more than eighty countries. I've learned a lot of tricks of traveling in those three decades.

Yet it never occurred to me to set down what I knew about flying smart. Until, that is, my mother suddenly announced that she was coming to Paris to visit me and my wife Claude.

What consternation that caused in our household!

This would be my mother's first trip to Europe. In fact, her first flight to anywhere. She had never stepped on an airplane. And as Claude reminded me, "You are going to be held accountable as her personal navigator. You'd better make it good and true, as Hemingway would have said."

Luckily, I knew, my mother was just like me. Or more accurately, I was like her. We both hated surprises. We both figured we could handle most anything that life threw up if only we understood how it really worked.

We had a love of the tiny details. If there was something we didn't know much about, no one could explain it too fully for our taste. I was not inclined to cut someone short by saying, "Hold on, you're insulting my intelligence." More likely my response was, "Hey, let's hear more of that."

She'd want to know every detail about her flight to Paris--that I knew. All the important things. Like how to get in and out of the bathroom. Or where to put her handbaggage. Exactly what to expect from takeoff to landing.

So FLYING SMART took off at 2:30 p.m., on January 29, 1985. That's when I sat down to organize my notes and to make an audiocassette for my mother.

Her trip was a great success. Not only did she like Paris and love Claude, but she also sprinkled compliments like confetti when she talked about my suggestions for flying smart. Ten years later she was still playing my tape for friends and strangers. Some of them never intended to take an international flight, she told me, but they enjoyed knowing what it was like, anyway. Early on, she suggested that I turn FLYING SMART into a book. But I had already signed a contract to do another work, and so I reluctantly put aside my notes. Then on a recent flight from Paris to Washington it suddenly hit me. Air travel had changed dramatically in the ten years since I had sat down to advise my mother.

Changed for the worse.

Air travel had become a truly modern mass transport system. Which meant that it was something to be endured. An ordeal not a pleasure. Gone forever were the days of "Coffee, Tea, or Me."

More people were using the system. From every country around the globe. And more people were flying dumb.

I knew the time had come to write FLYING SMART. So I began to put down what I had learned about air travel during the past thirty years. My plan was to produce a short book, straightforward and personal, that would work on three levels. First, readers who had never taken an airplane could learn the procedure from beginning to end.

Second, since so many people were already flying domestic these days, the book would contain tips to make their flying smoother. (I would ask them to skip my discussion of certain matters they were already familiar with--like boarding cards and ticketing.)

Third, the major thrust of FLYING SMART would be pointed to helping first-timers or seasoned domestic flyers meet the ultimate air challenge: international travel.

And FLYING SMART would contain a lot of those tiny details that my mother's friends, who never intended to board an aircraft, might like to know.

So here we are. Ten years later. Landing.

Zalin Grant

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