A day or so before I fly anywhere, I can feel my blood pressure gradually rise. I get myself into such anxious twists about packing (enough or too much), leaving the dogs, getting to the airport on time, going through security… the list of stressors goes on. Aside from the plane, there’s the discomfort of the terminal, the crowd at the gate, the lame and overpriced food and drink options (though New York’s LaGuardia airport has gotten rather good on that score). It is, generally, an extremely unpleasant experience.

And while I love CLEAR, the eye-scan identification technology that whisks you to the front of the security line, one still has to unshoe and go through the undignified rigors of the TSA’s security process. Also… are we taking laptops and tablets out or leaving them in the carry-on? Can we get the story straight?

By far, the biggest hangup I have about travel is leaving my dogs. I just don’t like being away from them. Even though I have a wonderful dog sitter who takes great care of them, it agitates me and I miss them terribly. 

Then there’s just the displacement from the space where I’m comfortable. One of the things that I love about New York City is that the world comes here, often sparing me the trouble of having to go “there,” wherever that may be. I realize that’s an unhealthy, isolationist perspective and that growth only happens outside our comfort zone, but it’s the truth. The good news is that I’m well aware of it and I’m working on it.

But once I land, I chill considerably, enabling me to enjoy my trip without too much internal drama, especially if I’m on my way to a good hotel. On a recent trip to L.A., I had my first stay at Sunset Tower Hotel, the venerable vintage jewel box situated on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I loved everything about it. My room, Tower Bar, Terrace Bar, the pool, the gorgeous building, the incredible staff… It’s not too-much or over-the-top in any way. It’s just right, and the perfect balm for the psychic assault that is modern air travel. Perhaps a sign of a good hotel is that it inspires no immediate compulsion to leave it once you’re there. You just want to stay and enjoy it. That’s Sunset Tower for me. It’s such a handsome and sophisticated Hollywood old-timer that exudes a truly understated glamour. If it were a man, I’d marry it. But since it’s not, it’ll just be my West Coast HQ when I’m cheating on NYC. 

Concluding my four days and three nights at Sunset Tower was another air travel day. And I was not prepared for the shit show that is Terminal 5 at LAX. Good lord. There wasn’t enough seating and the temporary charging stations positioned haphazardly around the terminal didn’t have working outlets. Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan has more amenities and charm. Fortunately, it’s under a much-needed renovation that promises a refreshed glow and better days ahead. Fingers crossed for its future. For now: D-.

My ride back to NYC on Jet Blue was a brand new A321neo with fresh seats, a comfortable recline and charging outlets in each row. And our screens at each seat were new, hi-def touch screens full of viewing options. But other than playing with the interactive 3D flight map, I never use those things. Before I leave for the airport, I load my iPad with more movies, music, podcasts, books and magazines than I could ever need for the duration of the flight. My movies for this trip: John Wick: Chapter 4Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyRaiders of the Lost Ark and No Time To Die. Along with the movies and other media, I always meditate and take a nap or two. Barring minor turbulence and no one to flirt with, it was a smooth and uneventful flight. 

Whenever I finish a trip and get home, reuniting with my dogs, I always wonder why I stress air travel so much. Then another trip approaches, and I remember right away. (See above.)

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  1. I’m taking Amtrak out of marvelous Moynihan Hall this week to visit my mom and sister (Philadelphia-adjacent) overnight. My cat will be alone for only a day and a half with plenty of food and water and even occasional relaxing music via Alexa, but still I fret. Small potatoes, as they say, compared to flying across the country for several days, but still. Angst, agita, annoyance in abundance.

    P.S. Your hotel looks scrumptious.


    You did it, you made it. Flying has gotten even more anxious since 9/11. It’s disgusting to have to take your shoes off and put them in the bins that are not cleaned before the next traveler uses them. And then to have to walk around in socks, scanned, and sometimes probed until security check is over. Plus, having to purchase water/drink at the airport prices. I only try to carry no more than the permissible carryon because I detest checking my luggage. I’ve gotten good at packing lightly save my traveler guitar, which thank goodness no one has tried to take from me. I can usually put it overhead and my backpack or small duffle bag under the seat. Our travel freedoms were taken away that day on 9/11, and may have come for us anyway, but other than the tragic loss of life, it’s the freedom of being a naive traveler that I miss the most. Although…in the back of my head I remember a month earlier in August 2001 travelling to Las Vegas with my then beau, and thinking how easy it would be for someone to plan something terrible. And then it happened and changed so much about the way we travel. I have lost seemingly innocent items as carry on things that were deemed unsafe. Too late to leave the line and mail items back to myself or eat said item. I’m usually settled once I’m on the plane, but it also seems like the personnel on the plane have become way more impatient. Maybe out of necessity. I drool over old pictures of people all dressed up to go travelling. Those were different times then and not so easy for some to travel at all. Thank you for your articles, George. They are thought provoking.

  3. Dog mama here, and I feel your pain. LAX, from my experience, is always a shitshow, always under construction. But appreciate the Sunset Tower recommendation!

    I pony up for NEXUS because I travel back and forth to Canada quite a bit. NEXUS gives you automatic TSA PreCheck privileges. I’ve not used CLEAR so I don’t know the nuances of that. Have never had an issue with PreCheck though.

    I’m going to have to make a long trip myself soon (Portland to Atlanta) and I’m already dreading it. I’ve found that Alaska and Delta are by far the best carriers on those long distance flights.

  4. Hello George Hahn, hope all is well.

    My girlfriend sent me your essay on Bryan Ferry (What? He’s not on your playlist?) I’m a big fan too. Saw him in 1992 in Austin (my hometown) and twice since. I lived in NYC Chelsea in the 90’s and played his music as I sat on my stoop with a glass of champaign.

    I went through your videos and commentaries. Well done. Timely, tasteful and lights a smile.


    David Rice