I’m traveling all next week, meeting new clients and getting into my new responsibilities. So I’ve been thinking about air travel the past few days. The news is full of stories and opinion pieces about the horrible state of air travel. We’ve all read about it, talked about it, and probably complained about it. It’s as if you can’t mention air travel without including the phase “little indignities” in the same sentence. So unless you’re a masochist, no one really looks forward to business travel, and even pleasure travel seems to be getting less and less exciting.
Now I have a dirty little secret: I actually enjoy flying. I really love it. (That’s putting aside the CO2 emissions issues: the picture above is enough to give me serious doubts about the sustainability of flying. I’ve recently started to carbon offset my flights – not sure if that’s enough, but it’s something and I’m trying it out. Interested in hearing other opinions on it…)
I love the sense of possibility and momentum in airports, the fact that thousands of people are beginning and ending adventures. I love the people watching and speculating as to where various oddly attired people might be going. I love watching the crowd dynamics in large groups of strangers. I look forward to the actual flying for the quality time with a book or a magazine or an iPod with no chance of being interrupted by phone calls and emails, and no parental obligations to weigh on me.
And while I’ve certainly had the occasional bad experience with delays, cancellations, and questionable airplane sanitary conditions, in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t seem all that bad. And the more stressed and angry people around me get, the calmer I get. It’s like some osmosis permeable membrane thing happens with stress – they pull all the stress out of me. It’s very zen. (And selfishly, I find when you’re the unstressed person who smiles and shows a little consideration to airline staff, they’re much more likely treat you like gold because they’re so used to being abused these days.)
I’ve felt very alone in my love of flying given the prevailing conventional wisdom. So I was glad to see that the excellent travel essayist Pico Ayer has a wonderfully contrarian piece in the NY Times blogs challenging that conventional wisdom.
It’s very plannerly – he argues that flying hasn’t actually changed much at all, and where it has it’s changed for the better: “[a]ir travel is in fact as comfortable and reasonable today as it’s ever been.” Instead, it’s our expectations of control and choice and speed of access to everything that have changed. And flying, with its various hiccups and uncertainties, seems jarring and anachronistic in comparison.
“I wonder if that is what makes us so fussy and impatient when it comes to the rare occasion — such as getting on a plane — when we have to leave the controls to someone else and are at the mercy of forces (other humans) who haven’t been bookmarked in advance.”
He also has some insightful observations about the fact that outside of North America and Western Europe – i.e. in most of the world – no one expects most things to go smoothly or quickly, and they remain much more patient. We could probably all learn something from that. It tends to leave you open to the little wonders of life. Or at least to some quality people watching.
By the way, my travels take me to San Francisco and Denver/Boulder next week, so if anyone fancies meeting up for a coffee or a beer let me know.