Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

An email conversation about the news of the day.
Nov. 1 1999 10:34 AM

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla


For the first time in the eight days since we've returned from our lovely junket to Hong Kong, I was able to sleep more or less normally last night. As you and Otto (the dog) know from my frequent nocturnal mumblings, trips to the bathroom, and shufflings around the bedroom, the jet lag of the past week has been miserable. Every night, a roiling marathon of travel dreams has played inside my head. You know the genre: I'm in a Chinese airport, with too much luggage, trying to catch a plane home and/or use a pay phone with improper currency. But today I made it until dawn before having a single, ugly airport dream. The dream: Friends (the Goldbergs!) convinced us to use their tickets home from Asia on a different airline from the one on which we already were booked. The horrible part about this wasn't the Anxiety of Uncertainty (would the airline honor the tickets?), it was how reality impinged upon the dream: Shortly after our plane took off, it began a slow-motion plunge into the drink. The icy Atlantic. Near Nantucket, where we vacation every summer. Yes, somewhere over Long Island, doomed EgyptAir Flight 990 collided with my jet-lag dreams, and as I sit here this morning, the nightmare of air travel permeates my waking.


This should be no surprise since the EgyptAir crash permeated my waking yesterday. What a bizarre day. The children getting into their ghoulish costumes to celebrate Halloween, the neighborhood teeming with kids dressed up as Death ... and everywhere around us the ghoulish news of 217 people perished at sea.

Still, I am surprised at the degree to which it's truly unsettling old hard-bitten cynical me. I am not someone who fears flying (that's your department, right?), but I'm am definitely starting to have second thoughts. I've always been something of a sucker for technology and have typically enjoyed an unreasonable trust in all machinery except pay phones. In fact, when TWA 800 crashed into the ocean not far from where we slept, I was sure it couldn't have been mechanical error. I figured it had to be terrorists. We even talked about cranking out another lesser thriller, remember? Prologue: A case of five Stingers disappears from the back of a U.S. military transport. Chapter 1: We watch as terrorists, sitting on their trawler off the coast of New York, sight in on a jumbo jet, ready, aim, and fire one of those Stingers, blowing the silver tube of humans out of the sky. Chapter 2: Troubled, maverick National Transportation Safety Board Agent Johnny Manhattan's beeper goes off assigning him and, later, gorgeous, straight-arrow, divorcee FBI Agent Delores Dunray, to the case ...

But TWA 800 appears to have suffered from a design flaw, a fatal crack in its technology. Was it a technical glitch that caused the jet crash of Payne Stewart and friends last week? Too soon to say. Will it also be the culprit in the EgyptAir crash? I much prefer the terrorists-taking-out-an-airplane scenario to human error or Bad Technology. Don't you?

Joshua Quittner is Time's technology columnist and editor of Time Digital. Michelle Slatalla writes a weekly column about online shopping for the New York Times "Circuits" section. They are the authors of Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace (click here to buy it).