Terror in the Skies: An Open Letter to Vance Gilbert

He may look innocent, but how do we know he doesn't have a book hidden in that guitar?

Dear Mr. Gilbert,

I read your recent blog post and several other articles all over the Internet about your experience being pulled off an airplane and questioned about the book you were reading. Much of the debate has centered on the issue of whether you were the target of racial profiling, but the fact is, this incident isn’t about race, or security theater, or overzealous airline employees, or post-9/11 paranoia. It’s about procrastination.

You really need to work on your time management skills. Your flight was less than two hours long; that’s just not enough time to read up on aircraft design, formulate an evil plan, and carry out that plan. You should do all your reading and planning in advance, and then gather all the materials you need before boarding the plane.

Let me tell you a little story: once, I bought a salad at the airport right before boarding. During the flight, when I went to eat the salad, I realized I’d neglected to get a fork, so I had to ask around to see if anyone had one that I could use. It was embarrassing. If you don’t do all your planning and shopping in advance, you may find yourself in a similar situation, having to ask other passengers for things. “Hi, do you mind if I borrow your laptop battery? And does anyone have some duct tape? Hey! Is that nail polish remover? I could really use some of that. Do you mind?” This isn’t just awkward; it may also draw unwanted attention.

But maybe I’m underestimating you. You’ve convinced everyone, including the police, that you were reading a book about 1940s airplanes. But let’s review your interaction with the police: they took you off the plane and then, when they wanted to see the book, sent you back, alone and unsupervised, to get it. But maybe there were two books, and the 1940s one was just a decoy. What book were you really reading? Maybe you had something truly dangerous. Maybe you had a book about paper airplanes. Maybe your plan was to spend the first half of the flight folding paper airplanes, and then threaten to do the unthinkable. “If you don’t meet my demands,” you’d announce, “then I will throw these paper airplanes and, in all likelihood, put someone’s eye out”. You could do some serious damage flying paper airplanes in an enclosed space like an airplane passenger cabin; I know, because my mom was one of the world’s leading experts on things that could put someone’s eye out.

Or maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe you did have a plan to take over the plane using only a book on 1940s airplanes, possibly by challenging the pilot to an aviation trivia contest and getting him to agree that if you won, you’d get to fly the plane. I’m pretty sure most major airlines have rules against that kind of wagering, though.

There’s just one thing I want to ask you, Mr. Gilbert. It may not seem all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to me. You see that small purple bag in the overhead? Would you mind getting it down for me?

Thanks in advance,

P.S. I eventually got a fork and was able to eat my salad. It was okay, but kind of overpriced. Thanks for asking.

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8 comments on “Terror in the Skies: An Open Letter to Vance Gilbert
  1. Hmm…
    I hadn’t even heard about this yet. Guess I shouldn’t have ordered the big salad (I think I can see a bit of bowl now, though… that’s progress)!

  2. Binky says:

    So I guess it wouldn’t be wise to be designing my rockets on my laptop when flying.

  3. Great, now we probably won’t be able to take paper airplanes on flights anymore because of the security risk they pose. They’re just chip-chip-chipping away at our liberties …

  4. nursemyra says:

    wow – what a story. I read your (as usual) hilarious post, then Vance Gilbert’s tale. He would totally have all my sympathy except for one unforgivable sin – he owns a fanny pack!

  5. I was riveted by the story of the fork until nursemyra brought up the fanny pack. Now I don’t know which way to turn.

  6. […] the post Terror in the Skies: An Open Letter to Vance Gilbert (September 5, […]

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I have some publications in other places, including short stories at Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, and Daily Science Fiction, and a list of overly-wordy LOLCat captions on McSweeney's.

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