16 Reasons To Fly Again
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – 1. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta says it's safe. He and other members of the Administration flew commercial to a press conference in Chicago on that very subject. If these guys are willing to fly commercial, things must be back to normal.

2. More regular Americans are flying too. The next day, for instance, my friend Starkweather saw former President and First Father George Herbert Walker Bush boarding a commercial flight from Boston's Logan Airport to Texas. Presumably he got there, or we would have heard about it. That's good.

3. Greater personal comfort. Flights are only 40% to 50% full, because of unpatriotic Americans not listening to Secretary Mineta. My friend Bratton tells me that on his recent flight to San Francisco all the business-class passengers left their cozy confines and headed back into coach, where they each lounged all over three full seats. That's livin'!

4. Better food service. A lot of the time in recent years I would ask for the steak and they would tell me they were out of it, and I would have to settle for the chicken or, on one very bad flight, the Spanish omelette. I'm still tasting that thing. Now I'm sure I could have whatever entree I wanted, and that extra portion of hot nuts and celery sticks that was sometimes so elusive on more crowded flights.

5. Curbside check-in is coming back, now that we've solved so many of the underlying security problems at our airports. That's sure to cut down on those long lines that have made flying such a chore since Sept. 11.

6. The Administration is beginning to lean toward the federalization of airport security, in spite of opposition led by Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, who favor more training and increased oversight of existing employees. I've met a number of those employees and agree that they could use additional training and oversight. Federalization, however, does have its points. Among other benefits, it would save the airlines about a billion dollars a year in screening costs, money we then would not have to put into their bailout packages. If all goes well and opposition to big government is soothed, it's possible that airport screening will be a reality within the next several years. That is certainly a good reason to fly right now.

7. At the same time, bold efforts are under way to hire air marshals to protect us on every flight we take. This will involve the recruiting of some 14,000 people, so there is concern about the cost of such efforts among "lawmakers, industry executives, and federal officials," according to the Wall Street Journal. They say things are moving along really well, though, and in the meantime there are literally dozens of air marshals out there securing our safety on thousands of flights. Dozens is good.

8. To prove you're not a wimp. There's no better way at this point. You tell people that you just flew in from Los Angeles or Chicago, and they get a look in their eye that's a little hard to read but definitely involves some form of respect. "You flew commercial?" they ask in disbelief, to which you may say that you had a chance not to but decided, as one Delta Airlines spokesperson said, to "encourage travel for the benefit of New York and Delta." Make mine macho!

9. Did I mention that several Cabinet-level officials have been on the morning talk shows declaring that the time has come to fly again? There they were in their mostly gray suits with quiet, Midwestern ties, generally in twos, smiling and reassuring us that the danger was under control and it was time to go back up there. I don't know about you, but it makes me think of that scene in Jaws where Mayor Murray Hamilton tells the people that it's safe to go into the water. Remember? It's right before the shark eats the Labrador retriever and that cute little tow-headed kid.

10. While you fly, you can make a mental game out of finding whatever minute holes in the system are left. Several newspapers around the country have succeeded in sneaking weapons and fake explosives onboard airplanes, just for fun. It wasn't all that hard apparently. You could probably do it too. My friend Harbinson went to collect his luggage at one of New York's major airports the other day, and he found the guys who were supposed to be checking the luggage tickets snoozing on a bench. I bet you could get any kind of contraband you want onto one of those carousels. Fortunately, I'm not interested in doing that, and I'm sure you're not either. Who would be?

11. You can make friends with your fellow travelers. That's a good feeling. Just recently over Chicago, a group of passengers on an American Airlines flight from L.A. to New York had to subdue some nut who stormed the cockpit in the belief that Satan was flying the plane. He wasn't, thank goodness. The folks onboard had to hold the guy down for more than 30 minutes while he raved and screamed. The good news is that nobody was hurt and that the plane was in the pilot's control the whole time, so the F-16s that were scrambled to shadow it when it radioed for help weren't forced to shoot it down. Think of the stories those passengers can tell each other in years to come!

12. You now have a chance to meet the pilot on a much more informal, one-on-one basis than ever before. My friend Unger was on a flight last week, and the pilot came out of the cockpit and went down each aisle of the plane, shaking hands and closely scrutinizing each and every passenger. That's a level of service you just didn't see before Sept. 11, and I think it instills all sorts of confidence in the whole operation.

13. No other form of transportation is any safer. You're still much more likely to die in a household accident than you are on a plane, unless you wear rubber shoes in the bathtub. How about the screwball on that Greyhound bus? And it's all very well and good to have National Guard soldiers at Grand Central Station, but I didn't see anybody checking our bags when I got on the train this morning with about a thousand other commuters headed in there.

14. Airfares are lower. Prices to all locations on a bunch of airlines are on sale for anywhere between 10% and 25% off. If you buy off the Web, it's even cheaper. And business fares are pacing the rollback, which could save my corporation a lot of money when I am forced to fly. That's a big consideration in times like these.

15. Because, you know...I have to, don't I? So, eventually, will you. Which just might be the best and only reason. Unless you count the moment when you land in one piece and are back in the car on the way home! Man, is that a good feeling or what?

16. Did I mention that the Secretary of Transportation said it's safe to fly?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.