25 Queer Engineer Approved Ways To Pass The Time On A Plane

Notes From A Queer Engineer_Rory Midhani_640

Header by Rory Midhani
Feature image by shutterstock

Hello sprockets! It’s May, which in consumer goods manufacturing means just one thing: the clock is now ticking to get our production up and running to meet forecasted holiday demand. Between my upcoming travel to factories, A-camp, and summer weekend trips, I have a lot of flight time in my future. I’ve gotten pretty good at sleeping in the air, but sometimes, no matter how practiced you are, you just can’t will yourself into unconsciousness for the entire flight duration.

Don’t worry; I’ve got this. Here are 25 nerdy and/or gay things you can think about to help pass the time on a plane.

  1. Estimate the volume (length x width x height) allotted to coach class on your flight.
  2. Estimate the volume (length x width x height) allotted to business and first class on your flight.
  3. If all of the free space in coach class was suddenly filled with cat-shaped marshmallows, and all of the free space in business and first class was suddenly filled with rubber snakes, what sort of trade economy would result if you crash landed on a desert island? What would your useful skills be?
  4. Download and play some tap games on your phone.
  5. Research the rationale behind airlines requiring passengers to turn off their cell phones. Does this make sense from a systems perspective? Why or why not?
  6. Watch a movie about outer space.
  7. Look out the plane window for repeating patterns in the landscape below. How much is due to human intervention? How much is simply a part of Mother Earth?
  8. Draw a map in your travel journal.
  9. Read a f*cking book.
  10. Reflect: which of the fourteen people you sit next to on airplanes are you sitting next to today?
  11. Recreate Bernoulli’s principle with your napkin and now-empty miniature wine bottle.
  12. Have an in-flight Carol breakdown.
  13. Draw a physical redesign of the plane you’re riding to be more accommodating for disabled folks.
  14. Write up a systems redesign to make air travel (from ticketing all the way through to baggage collection) more accommodating for disabled folks.
  15. Calculate how many “free” airline snacks you would need to eat to break even on the cost of your plane ticket.
  16. Read Lab Girl.
  17. Watch Hidden Figures.
  18. Challenge: the plane you’re on has been rerouted to LAX, where you will be deposited in two hours with no suitcase or phone; all you have is a dream, a cardigan and a water bottle. What do you do next?
  19. Download and play some airplane boredom survival apps.
  20. Memorize 100 digits of pi.
  21. Reflect: under what circumstances would you accept or extend an invitation to join the mile high club? Hot air balloons count.
  22. Redesign airport security to eliminate “security theater” and a requirement for strangers to make assumptions about body parts based gender presentation. What improvements can you come up with?
  23. Remember that time Leisha Hailey got kicked off a plane for kissing her girlfriend? Compare and contrast with today’s cultural climate. Bonus: consider the bullshit articles your Facebook friends shared following the recent United incident. Does this change your answer?
  24. How many people on your flight do you think currently identify as queer?
  25. If all of the “straight” women on the flight got a good long look at your hair, how many do you think would identify as queer then?

Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.

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Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 210 articles for us.


  1. In a few weeks I’ll be flying for the first time in a long time. This is a very helpful list.

  2. I’d totally be up for No.20 (learning numbers by heart sounds like a perfect way to mellow out) and I thought No.24 was a given?

  3. #18 won’t work for me as LAX is usually the airport I am leaving from(ie I live in LA).

    Side note right before I clicked on this article the local news said that Delta plans to give us less legroom. Fu*k!

    I dunno if this is a good one, but see who the lug is/was?

  4. Thank you so much!

    I have a 10 hour flight to my grandmother’s funeral on Friday, and can’t begin to tell you how welcome this is. My lovely, smart grandmother who would give me math puzzles, and ask me to compare the effects of increased administration in the Roman Empire with current governmental practice. She would have highly approved, not least because she loved smart humour, and any occasion to laugh and question.

    • Aw, I’m sorry to hear the reason for your flight. Your grandmother sounds lovely.

  5. No amount of spinning it as a “nerdy/gay pastime” is ever going to make me do UNNECESSARY MATH, Laura.

  6. this is so fun! some of these are giving me fermi question vibes and i can’t wait to bring my calculator on my next plane ride

    • and if and any other physics nerds are looking for entertainment you can calculate your planes takeoff acceleration using a string with something tied to it, the force components of the string and Newton’s second law!

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