I think some of the most sublime moments I’ve experienced have been in the air.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel fairly widely in the past and now, after 6 months on the ground, my wings are itching to be stretched again — as if I was a migratory bird. I have never grown tired of flying, mainly I suppose because I’ve done a good number of long haul flights to new places — I’ve been fortunate to visit about two new cities every year — and not so many short flights.
Often I wanted the plane to keep going. Not because I want to see the end of the movie, but because I had reached a kind of peace, free from every kind of distraction. I make a conscious effort to count my blessings whenever my feet left the ground. It’s a wonderful time to take stock. I should take up meditation if it’s anything like that feeling of calm — so different from simply being bored.
It’s also hard to beat that feeling as the plane thunders down the runway as you set off for somewhere new or return home. Perhaps I would feel differently if it was a regular commute. If I ever looked like a nonchalant frequent flyer I was faking it while inwardly revelling. I feel an exhilirating sense of privilege when the view is good, and a kind of zoological guilt when eating fish at 30,000 feet (what a particularly unnatural fate for a fish). The smell of jet fuel gives me a buzz.
My father in law predated the Kitty Hawk, i.e., manned flight. Yet, his son spent much his working life on planes, traveling to almost every country in the world. What an amazing change in a generation, albeit a long one. A friend of mine was one of the very few people classed as a “perpetual traveller” by the UK tax authorities — a global itinerant who spent his working life living out of a suitcase. I have always been very conscious that the richest man alive not so long ago couldn’t travel the world or see as much as I have, with just a few trips a year, never mind real travelers like these. Still, I feel I have only scratched the surface.
I try to be “green” and have done since long before global warming was in the news, but flying is one thing I would hate to have to give up entirely. Even the shortest round trip I ever did had a certain magic. I took my 10 year old son on a surprise day trip from Amsterdam to Toulouse, returning home with a little basket of goodies which his mother refused to believe had been purchased in France. He couldn’t have been more triumphant when, after sitting on the fact until he was fit to burst, he produced a video camera we’d purchased to record the outing. That was fun. (We flew on otherwise empty seats to a random destination for a token fare).
We saw an Airbus wing arriving in Toulouse in a huge, specially-built plane. And now that monster is dwarfed by the Airbus A380 which I am eagerly looking forward to stepping aboard for the first time. I was reminded of all this by stumbling on these videos on YouTube: The Airbus A380 in 7 minutes, and the first flight with passengers.
I have seen the A380 from the air. When I last flew over Paris the captain pointed out a Dassault Mirage jet fighter corkscrewing in the sky over the Paris air show, but I was far more taken with an A380 that I could see on the ground, making a 747 beside it look jawdroppingly “small” by comparison.
I don’t know if anybody has written a counterpart of this book about the 747 about the A380, it’s a wonderful story. The A380 story is too, unquestionably, or should I say I am sure it will be? I liked the ending of the second video (above) with the crew member asking passengers their preferred language, in English of course. There’s nothing very new about that. However, the A380 is a triumph not only of science and technology but also of an integrated and peaceful Europe. I raise a glass to this every time I am lucky enough to fly on an Airbus, even if the top deck of the 747 (window, emerency row) is still my favourite spot–for now.