Do You Want the Cancer? Something I Haven’t Been Asked on a Flight in Years

I flew Southwest Airlines Austin – Las Vegas earlier in the month. It strikes me that this isn’t the only Southwest Airlines flight I’ll be taking in March. For someone that hadn’t set foot on a Southwest aircraft from 1994 through 2014, I guess that makes me a Southwest regular.

They are, after all, the largest carrier at my home airport. And they’ve re-timed their Washington National – Austin non-stop to leave after 5 pm so I can work most of a day and still make it.

I usually fly American Airlines and I’m usually upgraded. Flight attendants will bring me a drink (ok, admittedly not usuall predeparture), they won’t bring me the can. Flying up front I don’t want the can, it takes up space and it’s another thing that’s open that might spill. Besides domestically I usually just drink water. (I’ll pair a decent wine with what I’m eating on an international flight in a premium cabin, but mostly I just want to stay hydrated at altitude.)

I literally don’t remember the last time I was asked if I wanted the can. But after the first pass where I had water, a flight attendant on my Southwest flight came back around for a second drink service. When I asked for more water he said, “would you like the can, sir?”

In the movie Up in the Air the scene in which Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is asked whether he’d like the can seems almost out of place. Why the reference at the beginning of the film to cancer?

In the book, which I read on a Washington Dulles – San Francisco flight back in the summer of 2001, Bingham has been having seizures. At the end of the book he’s heading to the Mayo Clinic expecting bad news. None of this is in the movie, but there is this reference to cancer — and Clooney’s character tells Anna Kendrick “we all die alone.”

Writer-director Jason Reitman has said the scene is a nod to those that had read the book, but also to travel and collecting miles as a disease, an obsession.

When the Southwest flight attendant asked if I wanted the can sir I thought of Clooney, of cancer, and that in the book he was going to donate his million Great West Airlines frequent flyer miles to childrens hospitals.

Then I was given the can — and because I almost never fly Southwest I had no idea — they have branded water cans. I’ve never seen this before, and it’s awesome.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Since I drink a lot of water when flying, I’ve often been offered the whole water bottle! I’m good with that: I have water always ready, and the FA has one less thing to do.

  2. Huh? Do you just write in a stream of conscience? I seriously cannot understand the point of this post.

    I’m a big fan of your blog, Gary, but please clean up the writing.

  3. To be fair, you have a slightly higher chance of GETTING the cancer just by flying (due to increased radiation)…

    @Daniel – I don’t know what shape Gary’s conscience is in, but his writings do sometimes resemble a stream of consciousness. But since it’s his blog to write, I’m not sure why you’d take it upon yourself to be his style conscience… 🙂

  4. Oh, come on. He was playing with words and musing about movie references. I found it amusing.

  5. Whereas on British Airways, flying within Europe, you will be charged £1.80 for water. Credit card, only!

  6. On the topic of miscommunication between FA and passenger. I was flying Egyptair from Cairo to London the other day. As we were approaching Heathrow I was at the aisle, an older British couple in the middle and window seats. The FA addressed the woman, and the following ensued:

    FA (to the woman at the window) – Please lift your tray table and open your shade for landing. (Moves on)

    Woman (to husband) – That’s odd. Why did he ask me to open my shit for landing?

    Husband – I have no idea. He must have an unusual sense of humor.

    Me – I think he meant you should open your WINDOW SHADE for landing.

    (By the way, I get asked if I want the can fairly often. Just yesterday on United, for example)

  7. Incoherent trashy click bait. Using cancer to get clicks is disgusting, although I’d expect nothing less from this blog.


  8. A woman at church in inner city Atlanta once stood to thank those who had been driving her to and from church meetings during her cancer treatments, it was very sweet to hear her appreciation and to see happiness in the faces of those who drove her. Not long after another woman got up to complain that ‘I got the cancers, ain’t nobody givin me any rides!’ Her state of health made it clear she had no such problems 🙂

  9. I gotta go with Daniel and Linda. I thought it was useful info on
    Radiation while flying. Thanks for wasting my time.
    That’ll be $300 please.

  10. Nice photo Gary. I haven’t seen a can of water since well, prbably sometime when flying southwest. I do think this is blog worthy content and your writing and cultural references to reading and films about flying staring clooney are as relevant as anything we’re likely to browse across on the web.
    You have a knack for making these kind of experiences interesting and for providing some fun content to read on your blog. I for one appreciate it.

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