Irony & Placebo, or, The Keys to a Successful Flight

Last week I completed my 9th and final flight segment of the summer. Each time I landed well. There were no in-flight complications and the oxygen masks stayed tucked away in their overhead homes. On each flight, I carried two items with me “Folk,” a book of poetry by Jacob McArthur Mooney, and No-Jet-Lag, homeopathic jet lag prevention tablets made in New Zealand. While there were other factors that contributed to the success of these flights – pilot’s skill, well-maintained aircraft, favorable weather conditions – I owe a good portion of my ease to these two companions.

No-Jet-Lag’s contribution, in the form of a small, tasty chewable every two hours, includes an ingredient called “Leopard’s Bane” and is said to relieve tiredness and jet lag associated with long-distance flights, “symptoms caused by disruptions to the body clock, pressure changes and other factors.” I used to skirt these symptoms by choosing land-based travel such as train travel, road trips and hitchhiking. Flying has always seemed to me an abrupt and jarring way to get around, allowing too much distance to pass in too little time, leaving me scrambling to reorient myself in a new location that I did not tangibly observe my own entry into. It’s more than physical. There are psychological effects of being whisked into a sealed cavity, shot into the atmosphere and dropped in a new place where huge hurdles of currency, communication, social networking and urban orienteering need to be quickly overcome. Arriving at a slower pace, by car, ship or train, doesn’t eliminate these hurdles, but it does offer the mind a chance to perceive the changes at a human rate: tree passes by the window, then farmhouse, village, spire, farmhouse, field. I’ve always considered this feeling of profound disorientation to be part of “jet lag” along with the other physiological symptoms that No-Jet-Lag is supposed to take care of. Does it work? Well, that’s hard to say. I’ve never been very good at getting to bed on time before a big flight. At four hours sleep, it’s hard to know whether these tablets alleviate tiredness or not. I’d like to say I noticed a difference in my tolerance of the air pressure changes during take-off and landing, but I’m not confident that I perceive my body well enough to state a sure difference. I did however feel much better with these little tablets in my carry on, and dutifully and joyfully took them as directed, believing that even though I may not notice its effect, the Leopard’s Bane was working.

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My second companion, “Folk,” was a book of poetry about/around the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1998. Mooney is a talented writer with an entertaining, yet sober style. He guides the reader into an imaginative retelling of this horrific incident allowing just enough distance to maintain a sense of security. It’s like he’s got a hand on your shoulder as he shows you the edge of a very, very deep hole. I chose this book as a flight read in the hope that the limits of irony would protect me as I flew. Akin to testing the limits of Murphy’s Law, I read a segment of “Folk” during each flight, pausing now and then to chew a No-Jet-Lag tablet and mark our progress from the window. On my final flight, last week, I noticed that WestJet has also taken to using the cloak of irony as a means of enhancing their flight safety. Flipping channels, I came across a documentary on the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 in 2010. I put down my book, put on my head phones and reached a whole new level of relaxation.