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At 11:15 p.m. and from 37,000 feet in the air, I pass over what I think is Dubuque, Iowa. Or at the very least, I pass over what I hope is Dubuque, Iowa. I’m in seat 14A of a new 737, packed with travelers who, like me, are making their way eastward from LAX on the red-eye. Usually, this flight is more motel than bus, and in travels past, it wasn’t so uncommon for mine to be one of the three or four reading lights on in a darkened hull.

That’s not to say the scene is different tonight, but strangely, I’m neither tired from a long day nor anxious to get home. My senses are heightened and my antennae raised, which is why I’m so keyed into the plane’s exact location at 11:15 p.m. It’s also why I’m feverishly searching below for Dubuque, Iowa. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The guy next to me is reading the product roundup in Men’s Journal. “Does he use their suggestions when he goes shopping?” I ask myself. Two rows and two seats over, a lady is watching a movie on her Dell laptop. “Does she have a Dell desktop too?” Next to her, a teenager sleeps behind Oakley sunglasses. “Why Oakley? Were they a gift, or did he purposefully buy them?”

Strange questions on such a quiet flight. Yet I’m returning from L.A. after having just watched the movie Up in the Air. Tellingly, these questions are not only apropos, they’re important.

It goes to the concept of loyalty. In the movie, George Clooney and his cinematic love interest, Vera Farmiga (read her profile on page 46), are fiercely loyal AA frequent fliers. In fact, everything they do -- from the cars they rent to the hotels they stay in to the clothes they wear -- is procured with a certain brand in mind. I suppose we’re all brand loyal to a certain extent, but in the movie, their allegiances transcend any concept I have of commitment. If Coke is not available, I’ll drink Pepsi. No Papa John’s in Amarillo? Pizza Hut is cool. You’re out of Budweiser? Gimme a Miller High Life.

These decisions would be unfathomable to Clooney’s and Farmiga’s characters. In fact, if the previous scenarios were put in front of them, they’d most likely abstain from eating and drinking altogether. I say this because their roles were so well played and defined that they actually have me believing that such a person exists and isn’t just some Hollywood creation. So as the time zones pass on my flight, and as I observe my fellow travelers and their brands, I can’t help but wonder if their product decisions were intentional or merely purchases of circumstance.

And then we fly over Dubuque, Iowa. Or what I hope is Dubuque, Iowa, anyway.

In the movie, Clooney hits his 10 millionth mile as the plane passes Dubuque. He’s recognized with a Champagne toast by the flight attendants and a seminal meeting with chief pilot captain Maynard Finch (played by Sam Elliott), who presents Clooney a card with his name and the number “7” on it, as he is only the seventh AAdvantage member to hit this milestone. (In reality, there are many more AAdvantage members with 10 million miles ). As the lights of what I hope is Dubuque twinkle below me, I have an epiphany: People like Clooney’s character do exist, and I am one of them.

I’ve been flying this airline for 30 years, first because it was what my parents flew and then later because it was comfortable and consistent. Even when I worked as the senior editor at another airline’s in-flight magazine, I’d fly AA every chance I got. They’ve always treated me right, and for that, they’ve always had my business. There’s honor in sticking with something through thick and thin. Long before I worked for this company, I’d made a subconscious decision that I’m an AA man, and for the long haul.

I won’t take this extreme loyalty into everything I do. After all, Miller High Life is one dang fine beer. But there are some brands out there for which I just won’t compromise. This is what runs through my mind as I read Men’s Journal over a guy’s shoulder. This is what I consider as I watch a flight attendant chat with a businessman as though they’re lifelong friends. And this is what I think about at 11:15 p.m. as I’m up here, in the air, over what I hope is Dubuque, Iowa.

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Adam Pitluk
Editor