Forget swine flu: The flight to Mexico could kill you

You might be second-guessing that vacation to Mexico now after hearing that most U.S. airlines have suspended flights to the country during May and June in the wake of the pig-flu shitstorm. United canceled all of them leaving from Colorado . But don't send that week of margaritas, Jet Skis and bikini babes to the recycle bin just yet. It's business as usual for both Mexican airlines in Denver. They haven't changed a thing.

If you do decide to hitch a ride across the Rio Grande on Mexicana or DIA newcomer Aero Mexico, though, be warned. In my experience, south-of-the-border flying machines have been nothing but a pesadilla.

After I recently missed a Continental connection to Ixtapa in Houston, I was casually re-routed onto a Mexicana flight. Mexicana? I thought. What the fuck is Mexicana? Were they propeller planes? Would there be chickens in the aisles? I didn't ask the agent these questions, but I think she read them on my face.

Though I didn't see any banditos on burros or mangy stray dogs hanging around the gate; I did notice a huge dent on the side of the plane as we boarded. A DENT. Concerned, I asked the ramp attendant if that might be a problem. He said no. But I knew he wasn't sure, because he continued to stare at it as I walked past him onto the aircraft.

After a rushed safety lecture, the pilots incoherently mumbled something over the intercom and the plane taxied toward takeoff. Tray tables were down, seatbacks were reclined, and my huge bag was on my unbuckled lap. FAA regulations apparently optional. As I crossed my fingers and said a little made-up prayer in my head, we charged down the runway and lifted off into the early evening sky.

There was no "welcome aboard" from the captain, no messages about altitude, time of arrival or peliculas. Just heavy turbulence and raindrops steadily streaking across the foggy windows as we rocketed through a raging thunderstorm above dense, unexplored jungle wilderness.

Sleep was the only way I could avoid thinking about when we would smash into that Aztec Pyramid and have our charred remains eaten by savage Conquistador cannibals. Curling up with a tiny, stained pillow, I dozed off.

An hour later, leaning on my hand, with my head hanging off into the aisle, I abruptly opened my eyes to the horror of fast approaching danger. A stubby stewardess was barreling toward me with her drink cart -- way over the speed limit. Her tiny little head and frizz-bombed hair barely peeked over the top of it. She was coming straight for my dome and she knew it -- she wanted it.

I snapped my head out of the way just in time as the huge, metal death machine raced past me with all of its mini tequila bottles and Fanta cans rattling like a thousand maracas. She even looked back after she flew by, with a slight look of disappointment on her face -- like a hunter whose deer suddenly vanishes from his gunsight..

The storm continued to pound the plane. I occasionally peeled back my eyelids to spy on the wide-eyed passengers grasping their armrests as the cabin lights flickered on and off, and the 757 bounced around like a $2 carnival ride. Would this crash even make the news? Now more than ever, I wished I had one of those Valium-tinis my mom was always drinking when I was a kid.

Distracted by the steadily building pressure in my ears, I asked the guy next to me if the crew had mentioned anything about landing. His mouth said no, but his eyes told me the pilot had just announced that both engines had fallen off into a volcano.

With the pitch-black windows offering no clues, I ran through various scenarios in my head when all of a sudden the plane jerked like a violent mechanical bull, slammed on its brakes and lurched forward. I was absolutely sure we had hit something and were about to die.

I was wrong. We landed.

Without saying a single goddamn word, the pilots touched down at Zihuatenejo International Airport in the middle of a torrential downpour, tray tables and seats once again in their incorrect positions. I didn't really care anymore: I was alive and I wanted off the flying taco stand.

After a pointless interrogation from Mexican customs officials about what I might be bringing in to Mexico, I hopped in a cab and began my long journey along muddy, unpaved back roads and windy, cliffside highways toward my hotel. Manito the driver, assured me we'd get there okay. But I didn't really trust Manito, because he could barely see over the dashboard and wasn't wearing any shoes.

I'll tell you more about that harrowing trip as soon as I'm finished with my therapy sessions.

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