Like one-third of Americans, I was terrified of flying. It made me sweaty, nervous, and fearful of falling out of the sky. I I decided to do the most logical thing to get over my fear: I'd stay on a commercial airplane for an entire month. Because there is something seriously wrong with me, I also made some conditions: I would eat, sleep, and wash myself on the plane, and the only time I'd set foot off the aircraft would be on the tarmac when they switched planes. To my surprise, AirTran Airways actually liked my idea and agreed to host me the entire month of June.
After a week of forcing myself to fly fourteen hours a day and sleep on the plane alone at night, my mental sanity was in serious jeopardy. On the plus side, I had the entire SkyMall catalog memorized. Gradually, my fear started to subside. Talking one-on-one with pilots did wonders. "Turbulence is like being in the ocean and going over a wave," they said. "It's like driving over a gravel or a speed bump." So whenever we hit a particularly rough patch of air like one flight to Pittsburgh, I didn't like it, but I was able to remember what the pilots told me and get through it.
Mornings on the plane were my least favorite. After jogging in the aisles for exercise, I'd begin my morning cleaning regimen, which included a baby wipe bath and a shampooing in the cramped airplane bathroom. Thankfully, the Flint, Michigan fire department took pity on me and hosed me down on the tarmac during a layover. It was the cleanest I'd be all month.
Red-eye flights were actually the best for getting rest, but sleeping alone on the plane at night was rough. Some nights I'd be so tired that I'd fall asleep while the cleaning crew vacuumed around me. One time, I actually woke up to find them taking photos of me on their cell phones. But by the far the oddest experience was waking up in the middle of the night on a pitch black plane to find that it was moving. Turns out, the plane was being tugged to a different gate and nobody knew I was on it. Such is the life of a person living on a plane for 30 days.
To stave off my boredom, I started playing games with the passengers, and it was clear they were starved for entertainment. Some popular onboard diversions: playing a competitive game of Bingo over the intercom, leading passengers in something I called the "Flight Attendant Call Button Wave," and holding a makeshift fashion show in the aisle. My musician friend, Lisa Loeb, come on at LAX one day to play me a special song. And the good folks in Charleston, South Carolina, threw me a pool party on the tarmac.
On every flight, there was a complainer, somebody who would tell the flight attendant, "I only drink Diet Coke served at room temperature." Then there was the worrier: "I don't know about this. I just watched the 'Twilight Zone' where there was a gremlin creature on the wing of the plane." And inevitably, there was always a teenage girl reading a copy of "Twilight." For some reason, I always felt compelled to give away the ending. "Charlie turns into a vampire at the end!" (He doesn't, and yes, she'd get upset). Did I mention I was bored?
The food situation was rough, especially since I'm a vegetarian. After popping vitamins every morning, I tried to stick to fruits and vegetables (even thought I probably consumed my weight in pretzels). Luckily, the planes were all equipped with wifi, which I quickly learned was essential to maintaining a healthy diet. A lot of people had heard about my living situation and had started following me on Twitter, so that became my primary method to get food. I'd post a message at 30,000 feet in the sky asking someone at the Denver airport to bring me a veggie burger, and when we'd land I'd promptly be handed a veggie burger. Ah, the delicious power of social media.
135 flights, over 111,000 miles, and 38 cities later, I had conquered my fear of flying. It was truly a feat of endurance, and as an added bonus, I won a world record for most flights in 30 days. I guess I'm like the poor man's David Blaine, except that no models are trying to date me.