The most dangerous part of flying

23 January 2013
9:05 AM

Pilots will tell you that the most dangerous part of flying is takeoff and landing. This is correct, though it’s most dangerous for people who aren’t busy flying the plane. Shortly before takeoff the doors to the aircraft are closed. From this point on the FAA requires passengers to shut off their electronic devices—the primary means of entertaining oneself in the 21st century—until the aircraft has reached its cruising altitude. Your Kindle off, there’s nothing to read. Your iPad off, there are no angry birds to avenge. Your eyes drift towards the seatback pocket, the only remaining source of entertainment until 10,000 feet. Safety card? Boring. Motion sickness bag? Gross. Oh, hello there, SkyMall.

SkyMall has been in American seatback pockets forever. It has a selection of products from dozens of resellers spread over 100 pages. You can purchase products you find in the magazine by calling 1-800-SKY-MALL, or at, both inaccessible from most aircraft.

Browsing an issue of SkyMall follows a typical path. Initially, your resistance is high. Everything in this catalog is ridiculous. These things are a total waste of space and money. Who wants a $400 bronze sculpture of Superman? A 6-foot tall Yeti garden sculpture? A birdhouse to curb your dog’s barking? If SkyMall were your first exposure to human desire, you would think that people are really crazy for pillows. A typical issue has at least a dozen different pillows. Inflatable pillows, wraparound pillows, NASA space-age cooling pillows, “the most comfortable pillow you will ever own,” a pillow that looks like a tree log “only feeling about a million times more comfortable.” You could also be excused for thinking that humans are gonzo for replica objects from fantasy movies like Aragorn’s sword from Lord of the Rings, Hermione Granger’s wand from Harry Potter, and Gandalf’s staff from The Hobbit. I hope we are not.

Next you imagine the scenarios behind some of SkyMall’s offerings. A magnetic cup holder that attaches to your ride-on lawnmower or tractor: “Mary, do you remember when I was out mowing last week and I dropped my beer? I found something that could change all that.” A grass turf platform with fire hydrant so your dog has a place to relieve himself in the apartment. “We used to have some many problems with Butch until we bought a fake hydrant for him to piss on.” A cell phone suitable for underwater use up to 100 feet: “What a beautiful triggerfish! That manta ray is so graceful. Hold on—I have to take this call from Gloria in accounting.”

You find a favorite crazy item. How about this pair of wine glasses that can each hold an entire bottle of wine? It’s perfect for the occasions when you want to impress your guests by serving them a pound and a half of wine. Parties aside, they’re great for any time you want to kick back with a bottle of wine, without the hassle of refilling your glass four, even five times.

But by the time the plane has taxied and left the ground, your resolve has weakened. Sure, most of the things in SkyMall are useless, but there are a few gems. I have been trying to improve my posture. Here on page 47 is a breakthrough waiting to happen: a velcro harness that I could wear just 30 to 45 minutes a day to train my back. Definitely dog-ear that page.

I am usually not one for travel clothing, which looks best on people who don’t care how they look. That said, I could really get into these pickpocket-proof pants on page 62. Pockets that are too hard for thieves to open make a lot of sense. I don’t love wearing a money thong on international trips. With these pockets, I could just leave it at home and carry my wallet like a normal person. No, that’s silly. I’m not going to wear the same pants every day of my trip. Oh. They come in three different colors. And shorts. If I rotated them, that could easily be 10 to 15 days worth of pants. How do I get these again?

I just want the posture harness and five or six pairs of these pickpocket-proof pants, which are actually a great deal at $109. The woman on page 73 looks like she’s sleeping really well with that neck pillow. And you know, it’s not like this phone only works underwater. Obviously I could use it above or below the ocean. I could stop worrying about getting pushed into swimming pools with my phone in my pocket. On second glance, there is a kind of quiet beauty in this bronze Superman. OK, the harness, the pants, the pillow, the Superman—two, my brother loves comic book movies too—the underwater phone and—

Ladies and gentlemen, you may now use your approved electronic devices.

What? Where am I? Woah, close one. See you on the way down, SkyMall. Be strong, Ryan.