Each red eye flight, I hope for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. My ritual goes like this: I settle (contort) into my cramped coach seat, inflate my lumbar and neck pillows, stuff in ear plugs, pop a pill, lower my eye mask, pull up the flannel blanket and hope to catch a few hours snooze before waking up three time zones ahead. But it never quite works out. Just as I doze off, thunk!, there goes my head, dropping to my chin like a bowling ball from a child’s hand. The ensuing jerk to my spine startles me awake every time.
Half-jokingly I’ve told my travel companions for about the last year that I want to tie my head to the seat, if only to spare my vertebrae the stretch marks. But I’ve never seen anyone do it. But it’s not so crazy; you’re already buckled in at the waist. Why not at the forehead, too?
I suspect tethering your head to the seat must somehow be illegal, certainly against FAA regulations. For a moment, I imagine myself carrying on a lasso-like rope, but that would surely raise suspicion. With all the flying around that I do, the last thing I need is for my name to be added to “the list” that guarantees a “private” search each pass through security. But still, the thought lingers in the back of my brain like a standby passenger on an oversold flight: strap your head and you’ll sleep.
On tonight’s red eye to LA, the plane is packed. No chance the seat next to me will remain empty, much less score a row to myself. I’m exhausted, half-crazed from days of vog exposure and the resulting pounding headache that won’t quit. My head hurts so bad that I can’t bear the idea of it rolling loose around on my neck. It’s why I’m escaping to California for a few days, to literally let my head clear. But tonight I need to sleep more than any other red-eye in recent memory. The time has come to try.
I have to be sneaky, I think. I imagine a flight attendant, maybe the older one with the blond bob and heavy makeup, screeching at me in a Texas drawl across the other passengers in the row, “Ma’am, you can’t do that. You need to take that rope off from around yer head. It’s for your own safety and the safety of everyone around you.” Horror.
Biting a hangnail, I scan my stuff for a suitable, yet subtle tether. I decide on the shoulder strap attached to my computer bag: strong enough to hold a bowling ball, and colored to blend into the seat fabric. There’s a shoulder pad for traction on the seat and two buckles to fasten across my forehead. Perfect.
I turn to the woman seated behind me and ask her if she minds if I try an experiment with a strap. She seems intrigued, scooting the edge of her to seat to get a closer look. Then it occurs to me how this must sound. Afterall, when was the last time someone on an airplane used ‘experiment’ and ‘strap’ in the same sentence? Maybe a few September 11’s ago.
Still, she’s going to look at my strap the entire flight, and it seems reasonable to gain her cooperation. That way she won’t rat me out to Miss Dixie. I explain my wacky plan, and she gives me a thumb up, making me promise to tell her when we land how it works out. Agreed.
Four hours and forty eight minutes later, we’re landing. The captain’s deep gravely voice makes its way into my brain. I wake up, utterly relieved that I slept solid. I unfasten the buckles on my forehead and try to rub out the little dent they made. I notice that my 3-day headache is fading. Stretching and yawning, I turn around and utter words I thought I’d never say: I slept deliciously deep and utterly uninterrupted in coach.