Austin in a JanSport

Perhaps I’m simply projecting, but I think the process of air travel gets a little worse each time I board a plane. I’m not talking about the fresh hell the TSA created with MSP International’s security checkpoints or the child sizing of coach seats. I’m talking about the passenger-on-passenger crimes we commit against one another. If you want a small taste of what life might be like in the event of societal collapse, take a random cross section of mid-America, cram them into a small, metal tube, and threaten to separate them from their belongings. Common decency means nothing when armrest rights are at stake.

We’ve effectively taken the miracle of humans in flight and turned it into a battlefield. Very recently, I’ve waved a white flag in my final fight – overhead bin space. Checking my luggage feels unnatural. All I simply ask for is the certainty of knowing my bag is physically over my head. It was easy when we didn’t have to pay to check bags. Now, bin space is filled to the brim long before the seats below are occupied.

After getting literally squeezed out a few times, I’ve decided to downsize from a soft-sided duffel to a bright red JanSport backpack. It’s larger than the ones we had in middle school, with a laptop sleeve and a bunch of little pockets to organize various belongings. I can easily fit a few changes of clothing, toiletries and my MacBook Air inside and still be able to stash it underneath the seat in front of me. This new packing system has afforded me a lot of freedom. Not only is it incredible to have two free hands while running through the airport, but I can breeze on board any time I wish and still have a place for my bag. However, it does force me to be selective.

I took the backpack to Austin this weekend for a bachelorette party. We had a range of activities planned and I quickly hit my bag’s maximum capacity for clothing. Forced to make the decision between my laptop and a raincoat, I chose to be practical, rather than productive. Plus, I probably wasn’t going to get much “me” time surrounded by a house full of women. 

The airport was surprisingly quiet for 9:00 a.m. on a Friday. Even the security process was brief and much more relaxed than normal. I placed my backpack next to the single bin containing my shoes and liquids bag.  

“Do you have a laptop with you today?” asked the friendly TSA agent. 

“No, I left it at home this time,” I said, feeling a tinge of regret. 

“Good. That means you’re not working then.” 

The poignancy of his statement glued my bare feet to the concrete floor. He was right – leaving my laptop at home meant I was not a business traveler hunched over a PowerPoint, nor was I an aspiring writer trying to wax poetic about the atrocity of modern-day air travel. I was simply on a mini vacation with no strings attached to the next 72 hours of my time. My only obligations included getting myself on the correct plane and into a taxi. The rest would be taken care of once I arrived at the rental house.

I celebrated my newly-realized freedom by stocking up on magazines I normally don’t read. My plan was to use four hours of flight time filling my brain with things I don’t really need to know, like the kind of coffee Kate Hudson drinks. Instead, I spent most of my time staring out the window at the clouds in-between naps, my backpack stashed neatly next to my feet. 

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