Two Views of Air Travel

One view of airplanes and airports:

Airplanes are cramped, jammed, hectic, noisy, germy, alarming, and boring, and they serve unusually nasty food at utterly unreasonable intervals. Airports, though larger, share the crowding, vile air, noise, and relentless tension, while their food is often even nastier, consisting entirely of fried lumps of something; and the places one has to eat it in are suicidally depressing. On the airplane, everyone is locked into a seat with a belt and can move only during very short periods when they are allowed to stand in line waiting to empty their bladders until, just before they reach the toilet cubicle, a nagging loudspeaker harries them back to belted immobility. In the airport, luggage-laden people rush hither and yon through endless corridors, like souls to each of whom the devil has furnished a different, inaccurate map of the escape route from hell. These rushing people are watched by people who sit in plastic seats bolted to the floor and who might just as well be bolted to the seats. So far, then, the airport and the airplane are equal, in the way that the bottom of one septic tank is equal, all in all, to the bottom of the next septic tank.

If both you and your plane are on time, the airport is merely a diffuse, short, miserable prelude to the intense, long, miserable plane trip. But what if there’s five hours between your arrival and your connecting flight, or your plane is late arriving and you’ve missed your connection, or the connecting flight is late, or the staff of another airline are striking for a wage-benefit package and the government has not yet ordered out the National Guard to control this threat to international capitalism so your airline staff is trying to handle twice as many people as usual, or there are tornadoes or thunderstorms or blizzards or little important bits of the plane missing or any of the thousand other reasons (never under any circumstances the fault of the airlines, and rarely explained at the time) why those who go places on airplanes sit and sit and sit and sit in airports, not going anywhere?

Ursula K. Le Guin in USA Today

Another view of airplanes and airports:

While it took the Mormon handcart teams three and a half months to travel by foot from Iowa to Utah in 1856, I can travel by sitting in an aluminum tube that is heated and pressurized, which rockets almost as fast as the speed of sound, six miles up in the air. I can rest my head back and doze, I can sleep, I can read, I can write a report, I can watch movies, listen to concerts, play games, uninterrupted by anyone, while I sip a drink and eat a snack. On my trip from San Diego to Chicago, I can look out the window and first see the ocean and the bay under me fall away while we soar. I can see the entire Grand Canyon in one field of view. I can look down on the Rockies and the endless Midwestern plains. I can rest my mind and recharge my internal batteries.

When we land after traveling for four hours to cover a distance that used to take six months, and often was deadly, I enter the airport terminal in Chicago. It’s a wonderland of services, with book stores, restaurants, fast food counters and coffee shops abounding. All the people around me came here for a short time, before they all go on other planes and separate again, to be scattered all over the country or the entire world, just twelve hours later. But I bask in the amazing moment when I realize that we are all so fortunate and lucky that we can share this hour of time, at this airport, once only ever for this combination of people, before we all disperse again, stepping into aluminum tubes.

Every human in history, for tens of thousands of generations of humanity, would have given a fortune to once experience the wonder of stepping into an aluminum tube and traveling at the speed of sound, six miles up in the air.

And I get to do it all the time. It does not get any better than that.

— Norbert Haupt


2 thoughts on “Two Views of Air Travel

Leave a Reply