I fucking love flying, even though I feel slightly guilty doing it. For all its faded romance and vulgarisation, flying is still a damn sight more exciting than ten hours on a sweaty coach.
As I write this, I’m just coming off “fliatus”. Fliatus is a term I made up (or so I like to tell myself) to mean taking a break from flying, in my case for environmental reasons. Mine lasted 18 months – pretty good going considering that I took like eight flights in 2017. Flying had become so normal to me – to get home to my parents, for holidays in the Summer – that I was proud of myself for each month I went without it. Still, I won’t let that stop me from enjoying myself. There’s so much to love about flying, and airports have a peculiar magic about them to me, little nexuses connecting a vast web of destinations. I don’t know how many times I’ve stared at the departures board and been achingly tempted to sack off my flight to Leeds-Bradford and head to Aruba or Lima or Tokyo instead.
I love all the forgotten novelties that have become less mundane now I haven’t done them in a while, like remembering to put my liquids in a clear plastic bag or placing all my valuables in a big tray and then, against all intuition, letting some stranger feed them into a big machine. I also love how people mostly keep their shit together in airports: I’ve seen drunker, rowdier people in my local library, and as far as I know they don’t even sell alcohol there.
And the safety demonstrations? Hell yeah, I love them too! You don’t get them on trains or buses. On trains and buses there’s a general, probably misplaced assumption that people will know what to do in an emergency. Not when you’re flying. Watching the safety demonstrations, you’d think that planes have only just been invented and we’re the first ones trying it out: “right, you lot,” says the captain, “this is a new contraption, and we’re fairly certain it works, but there’s a few things we need to be clear on before we try it out. This here’s a seatbelt…” and so on. Flying just kind of feels like more of an event, with its mandatory rituals and practices and etiquette. I love the feeling of being above the clouds, literally looking at the world from above, feeling like you have proper space to think. A few years ago, I was flying to Italy when our captain informed us that a large thunderstorm lay ahead. I didn’t like the sound of that, but he’d seen it well in advance and guided the plane gently around it, tipping the wing slightly on the one side so we could watch it as we passed. It was magnificent: a bulbous, bursting, dense grey giant, flashing white with regular spurts of lightning. I’d never seen a thunderstorm from above before.
But for sure it’s not all smooth up there. One thing I hate about flying is turbulence. I read once in an article that turbulence has almost no chance of doing any damage to a plane, let alone bringing it down. But that doesn’t stop me shitting myself when the giant, winged enclosure that’s hurtling me through the sky at 500mph starts jerking around like a bumper car and everyone inside looks like those bobblehead toys that sit on your car dashboard.
Taking off and landing always make me nervous, too. A few years ago, I was flying home for Christmas. It was icy and windy in Leeds and the plane was getting thrown about so much that at one point we seemed to be approaching the runway side-on (I knew this because I could see it out my window, which I was sure I wasn’t supposed to). I was sitting quite near the front, and called out to one of the stewards, “is this normal?” He nodded, in that way people nod when they’ve been asked a question a thousand times and wish you’d just chill out or take a sleeping pill or something. The conspiracy theorist in me was convinced that he nodded – as opposed to actually saying “yes” – so that his “yes” wouldn’t be picked up by the flight recorder and the airline sued by the families of the soon-to-be-dead for making false promises. It didn’t occur to me that flight recorders don’t pick up chatter from the whole plane, only the cockpit. It’s times like that you really need someone chill next to you. On another flight a few years back, I was gazing out of my window after we’d taken off when I noticed that the woman next to me was fidgeting nervously. I asked if she was okay. She was clutching a book with both hands and muttering something to herself. Then she said to me something like, “I hope we don’t die on this flight.” Just about the worst thing someone could say to you on a plane. I smiled and nodded sympathetically – she made a good point, I guess. A moment later she turned to me again. “Can I ask you a question?” she asked. “Sure,” I said with a smile. But then she turned over her book to reveal its cover to me and I knew it was going to be a very long flight.
“Tell me,” she said, “have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your saviour?”
Cover photo by Anugrah Lohiya from Pexels