By Greg Schwem

The gentleman seated next to me took a sip of his drink and sighed. "Once you've had it and lost it, you definitely want it back," he said.

I quickly agreed. "It took me years to get it. Now I can't imagine living without it."

We could have been discussing love, fame, money or maybe even a decent golf swing. But in this case we were talking about something far different.

Elite airline status.

Our desire to obtain "it" resulted in our being sandwiched together on American Airlines Flight 889 between Chicago and Los Angeles. Our sole purpose was to turn around and fly back as quickly as possible. That's what "mileage chasers" do.

As the calendar year draws to a close, you see mileage chasers in most major airports. We're the ones whose luggage consists of nothing more than an iPad and a magazine. Why pack clothing? We aren't staying. We are simply doing whatever it takes to hit that magic number - usually 100,000 miles flown in a calendar year - so we can be labeled "Executive Platinum," "Premiere," "Diamond Medallion" or some other equally pretentious term coined by the airline industry. Incidentally, casual travelers have another word for us, but it's not printable in most major news publications.

Admit it, infrequent fliers: You detest us. We're the ones who board first, enter the special lines at crowded security checkpoints, and somehow manage to avoid baggage fees. If, heaven forbid, we are forced to check a bag, it appears in the claim area mere seconds after the carousel begins spinning. While other fliers wonder if they are going to get overhead bin space, we're wondering when the salted nuts will arrive. If the Occupy Wall Street movement turned its wrath on the airline industry, we would be the 1 percent.

Please don't hate us. You should feel sorry for us because we are disturbed individuals. It takes a twisted person to fly SIX legs between Chicago and Los Angeles in a 36-hour period during the Christmas season, pausing only to grab a brief nap at an airport motel before catching the first shuttle back to the terminal. Which is precisely what I did. Each segment accrued 1,745 miles in my American Airlines account. Tack on a special double mileage bonus for flying to a West Coast destination and that meant nearly 21,000 miles in my kitty, allowing me to achieve the remaining one-fifth of my goal in two days, if I added correctly. If nothing else, mileage chasers are very competent at math.

Contrary to popular belief, we are also the most nervous fliers, particularly late in the year. We will completely freak out when we hear that dreaded four-word phrase from the cockpit. No, it's not: "Please assume crash positions." Rather, it's: "Maintenance is on board." If the plane crashes, at least we would be forever free from the rigors of chasing miles. But cancel a flight? That makes us hyperventilate or reach for the air-sickness bag. We need EVERY flight to take off and land, even if one wing falls off somewhere over Denver.

Note to American Airlines executives: Your loyal customers also need you to retain the frequent-flier program, despite your recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Cancel it and we will use one of several free tickets we have earned due to our EXECUTIVE PLATINUM status to hunt down whoever pulled the plug. We will also bring Alec Baldwin with us.

The only way to keep us calm is to talk to us during the flight. We're great conversationalists since we've already seen every in-flight movie and listened to every audio channel - including the Spanish stations. We even have plenty of travel tips that we are happy to share. For example:

That purple yarn you tied to your luggage will not distinguish it from other pieces. Besides, baggage handlers take bets on who can steal the most yarn in an eight-hour shift.

Putting a privacy shield over your laptop screen is pointless. What do you expect your seatmate to do? Steal your secret solitaire strategy?

If you think those body scanners really can see everything, consider taking Greyhound.

I would offer more, but I just checked my mileage status and realized I miscalculated. I'm still 150 miles short.

Grand Rapids, here I come!

Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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