Do you know what country your luggage is in?

Since the beginning of time, man has been dreaming of flying. On December 17, 1903, Orville Wright turned that dream into a reality when he flew a plane 120 feet in 12 seconds. Today, with jets cruising at speeds of Mach 0.8 (Mach 1 is the speed of sound), man sits in airport terminal buildings -- "canceled" and "delayed" -- still dreaming of flying. Why is that?

This being the vacation season, it is important to be aware of some of the shortcomings of air travel. Good flying means never having to say "I've been bumped" or "Where's my luggage?" (Not that these two mishaps are the worst things; Amelia Earhart never got bumped and her luggage was never lost.)

Probably half the people reading this article have had luggage lost by an airline at one point or another. (The other half is probably afraid of flying.) Yet, most people don't seem to take any precautions to avert such problems. The trick is to outsmart the airlines.

One method of reducing the odds of losing luggage is a tactic developed by nuclear war strategists. For every suitcase you take on a trip, bring along four empty decoys. The chances of losing the "right" one is thereby reduced to 20 percent. If, with these kinds of odds in your favor, you lose the "right" one anyway, whatever you do, don't spend your vacation in Las Vegas.

If the airline loses all five suitcases, it's not an accident -- they're out to get you! I would strongly suggest traveling by boat. If a submarine is available, all the better. (On a submarine, instead of movies and snacks, they allow the passengers to look through the periscope and watch dolphins fly through burning bagels.)

The worst part about losing a suitcase is when they find it three months later and you don't fit into the clothes you bought for your vacation.

There's one method which can totally eliminate the possibility of losing luggage. Instead of telling an airline you want to go to, let's say, Florida or Bermuda, tell them you want to go wherever your luggage goes. How can they possibly mess up?

What bothers me more than the lost-luggage problem, though, is the cover-up. Ever notice that no matter how many suitcases are lost on a flight the luggage carousel is always full? Who's are all those suitcases? Obviously, the airlines buy suitcases just to fill up the carrousels; by dazzling you with an array of colorful (empty) suitcases, they figure it'll never dawn on you that your suitcase is in a holding pattern somewhere over Singapore.

Another serious problem plaguing the airline industry is the long delays. Sitting in an airport terminal building for what seems like an eternity, waiting to board a flight, sort of makes you wonder whether supersonic jets were invented just to make up for time lost at airports. Surely something more can be done to alleviate this frustrating situation. Perhaps they should have stewardesses on the ground instead of on planes; would you rather be comfortable on a two-hour flight to Florida, or a two-day wait at the airport? And it wouldn't hurt to have a post office at every airport -- just in case your passport expires.

The key to survival in the airline jungle is good planning. If your vacation begins, let's say, the morning of January 15th, be at the airport no later than July 23rd. This should give you enough time to get canceled, bumped, delayed, held over, rerouted, and inconvenienced, and still get to your destination on time. Of course, this should also give you enough time to get from New York to Florida on a rubber raft. But setting up a projector and screen on a rubber raft could interfere with air currents and you could wind up in Singapore along with other people's luggage. So this is not recommended.

Sometimes I wonder whether the root of the airlines' inefficiencies can be traced to something as extreme as communist infiltrators. But it's been pointed out to me that communist infiltrators could not possibly create such chaos if they tried. My question then is, why don't we bring in communist infiltrators to run the airlines?

Personally, I think the whole mess could be straightened out with a few simple changes. They should put airline traffic controllers in charge of luggage -- this may cause some suitcases to collide every once in a while, but at least we'll know where they are at all times. To eliminate delays, every cockpit should have a pilot, a copilot, and a New York City cabbie -- a few sharp turns, a couple of loops, a nose dive here and there, and every plane would be on schedule. Finally, the baggage handlers should be put in charge of nuclear waste -- the United States government has been trying for a long time now to find a way to get rid of nuclear waste so that it could never be found again. Are there any people better suited for the job?