It seems obvious to the point of banality to complain about air travel these days. From the dehumanizing and pointless security to the dehumanized and surly people (both employees and fellow travelers). The lines. The screaming kids. The delays. Insert your own horror story here.
I don’t want to minimize any of this, of course. Flying can suck in lots of ways, and there’s no point in denying it.
Nevertheless, I feel like a certain reappraisal of the situation of flying is worthwhile. And I can lead the charge here, because I love flying. Always have. Even when things go hellishly wrong.
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Freedom from autonomy
Are you like me, in that you can’t sit still? Getting me to sit down to even watch a movie is tough; too much inaction. Perhaps it’s a reaction to spending so much time in front of a screen; when I’m done, I want to do other things that don’t involve sitting down.
But flying is, perhaps ironically, the perfect antidote to this. When you are buckled down in a plane, there is nowhere you can go of your own volition. And that actually makes the whole process much easier, because if you can’t do something, it follows that you don’t have to do it. Freed from any ability to make my own ambulatory or similar decisions, I am forced to sit down.
All of a sudden, I start reconnecting with how nice it is to just be still. I might watch a movie, or read a book, or listen a podcast, or just stare out the window at the beauty and marvel of the world that we live in.
I could also fall asleep immediately. Which is actually what I do. I am notorious for sleeping through entire transcontinental flights. On my recent trip back from Germany I had to force myself to wake up midway through the flight so I could enjoy business class while conscious, lest I sleep all the way to Seattle.
Similarly, are you also like me in that you sort of get anxious around unstructured time? The feeling that you should be doing something, but you don’t know what? That ceaseless urge to be productive?
Well, when you’re flying, there are great limits to your productivity. Sure, you could pay an armload to get wifi, but it hardly seems like a good value. And without internet? If you’re like me, the number of tasks you can accomplish goes way down. All the more easily to just sit and enjoy.
Make no mistake, I love autonomy in my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But flying allows me to relinquish that autonomy in a way that’s actually quite pleasurable. Sometimes, it’s nice to have someone else dictate what we’re supposed to do.
Yes, I’m allowed
If you’ve read my experiences with getting NEXUS and the aforementioned business class trip from Germany, you may be pushing back with a “easy for you to say you enjoy flying with all those perks.” And I admit that there are some perks these days that I get frequently. But not always, and I’m certainly not immune to travel disasters.
Once recently, I was an idiot when booking a cross-country flight. Instead of flying through Phoenix, like I usually did (before I switched airlines), I thought it would be fun to try a different airport.
So I booked it through O’Hare. In December. I know, dumb move.
Well, you can anticipate the outcome. Massive snows in Chicago snarled everyone, and I spent many hours in ORD wondering what the hell I was going to do with myself. I didn’t get into my destination until 1AM, and then I had to sit at PHL until 3AM for my bag to show up.
And then I needed to wait in the snow for a cab with the 60,000 other people who were similarly stranded. Total travel time was about 20 hours coast-to-coast.
And yet, the lack of autonomy felt freeing. There was nothing I could do about the situation; all I needed to do was ride it out. Forced with the need to sit still, I sat still. It was actually quite nice, believe it or not. I just sort of went into an enforced super low-key mode.
Why is this important?
It’s worth reconnecting to joys of flight, not just because it really is quite amazing what we’re able to do these days, but also, because flying can be such a negative experience for so many people, you have a great opportunity. By keeping connected to the joy, you can stop the increase of negativity around you. By remaining joyful in the face of frustration, you can perhaps help some others get through more easily. We need more of this.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Louis C.K., who uttered probably one of the most profound statements on gratitude and flying. In case you haven’t seen it (starts at 2:38):
Let us all remember this when we’re in a chair in the sky.
But enough about me. Can you still enjoy flying?