The uniqueness of flying is that, for a short while, we step outside of time and place. The particular headspace and disconnection that flying brings ensures that it isn’t just ‘another place’, but rather an in-between place.
Disconnected and unreachable, we are afforded a time-zone immunity where day merges with night, and we live in the alternate-reality of the aircraft cabin. For the next several hours, the world cannot interrupt us — we have, for once, permission to not take part.
It is easy to focus on the physicality of flying — the smallness and nearness of everything; the close proximity of strangers; the remarkable range of people and personalities. From the gentleman to your right who is taking up too much of your seat, to the woman in 24B to whom instructions do not apply. There’s that screaming child, the parent of the screaming child, and that other kid who just won’t stop staring. Some people have small bags, others have four bags, and how exactly did they get that through? The up-shot, I feel, is that it is easy to become self-focused. We allow flying to become a chore.
I choose not to see it that way. Yes, flying is uncomfortable, inevitably long, and will surely end with sleep-deprivation; however, with a change of perspective that can all be part of the fun. If we anticipate the quirks and make the most of the situations we are able to change, flying can become breathing space from the relentlessness left behind.
I’ve long-since lost track of how many flights I’ve taken over the years. None-the-less, the joy and wonder of flying has not diminished for me. That initial roar of the engines still fills me with awe; I find myself taking photos through the window with a flurry most would think was first-time excitement; I’ll slide open the window just a fraction during the ‘night’ just to see the icebergs tens of thousands of feet below.
I think it is remarkable that such a massive conglomeration of metal can soar across the sky. I know the science and engineering behind flying is highly calculated and precise, but the concept that one can fly across the world in a single day is too often taken for granted. The fact that we can, as a society, fly with the ease and convenience that we do, has become as normal in our lives as having a supermarket down the street. We take flying for granted; enduring it, yes, but not relishing the opportunity.
For some, there is an idealised state of travel — one that will never actually be reached or experienced. Perspective shifts to what we feel “should be”, and inevitably nothing ever meets that mark. No employee, seat or circumstance will meet expectations, and the trip will be miserable. Did you not hear that you are about to fly across the Atlantic?
My theory for shifting perspective and enjoying the art of flying is three-fold:
1. Let go and indulge the journey
Right now I am at about 30,000 feet. Moments ago the sun sank below an ocean-like blanket of clouds stretching as far as the eye could see. I am listening to music on my iPod, and it is almost as if the rest of the plane isn’t here at all. If I didn’t have a window, I would instead simply close my eyes and exist in that world between sleep and awake. For me: total bliss.
I know that such circumstances aren’t always the case. If you have children, for instance, your own space is hard. But I also believe that travel — any travel — is about the journey, both inwardly and outwardly. For two hours, I am literally not taking part. A flight, to me, is space to think; space to stop and rest. You simply have to let go.
2. Anticipate the circumstances
The quirks of airports and airplanes are not a secret. There will be queues. There will be tight spaces. You will need to hurry up, and you will need to wait. The food does comes in tiny packages. The chair really is that small, that uncomfortable, and the toilet is impressively confined. So why do we act surprised — outraged even — when the inevitable occurs? If we choose to focus whole-heartedly on the things that are good, our perspective immediately shifts. Space, music, clouds, time to read, movies to watch, no phone to ring or places to be.
Anticipation of what’s coming can either increase anxiety, or — if we let it — can make the way we deal with things easier. For me, knowing that the seats will be confined helps me prepare for being in a tight space. I expect it, deal with it when it comes, and it is less of an issue. Acknowledging and allowing the things that are inevitable to unfold before us can be empowering. It is up to you. Disarming the anticipated stress also helps us adapt to the unexpected, the circumstances we cannot see coming. Missing passports; changed gates; the ‘other’ meal choice. Reframe your expectations, expect to face unknown challenges, and things will be seem easier to digest.
3. Do things on your terms
The flip-side to anticipating the things you cannot change, is to actively change the things you can. Allow more time. Bring the food you want to eat. Read, listen, play, sleep, watch. This is your flight, after all. What would you like to do? On long flights, I get the chance to sleep more than I do at home. Do what you need to do to make the flight comfortable for you. I find drinking absurd amounts of water helps me stay healthy on board — so be it, I shall drink lots of water. I am all-the-happier for it.
And one more thing: ask. You never know what you could get, where you could go, or what you could do, unless you start a conversation and see where it leads you. Hot tip: staff are friendlier when you are friendly to them, and engaging in light conversation will never go astray.
My other strategy is learning to laugh at other people’s quirks. Perhaps not out-loud (that could just be awkward), but if you anticipate that people will be demanding, pushy, self-seeking or high-maintenance, they have suddenly lost their ability to infuriate you quite so much.
As travellers, we will never have the same experiences as each other, or even from one trip to the next. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all have a better flying experience if we choose to love the journey instead of resenting it. Flying is your opportunity to step out of the rat-race and simply not take part.
Where will you fly next?