It’s a shame we don’t appreciate the miracle of aeronautics. We talk about air travel like it’s a chore. Wide-eyed families once draped themselves in Sunday Best for a two-hour skip through the sky. Now they don pajamas and trudge through the airport with Xanax in their carry on. We treat every flight like it’s our first day in prison.
Of course, our post-nine-eleven security theatre doesn’t help. Mandatory processing by uniformed guards is hardly a liberating experience. But it’s only a speed bump. Once reunited with your shoes and your belt, you get to experience the closest thing we have to time travel.
Time travel! I mean, we used to visit Europe without airplanes, but we’d have to slosh around on a wood boat with no Wi-Fi and possibly lice, for weeks.
Today: you can have dinner in America and breakfast in England. That’s magic.
Not that I’m salivating to sit on a boat. The very existence of aeronautics makes boat travel a curio. But aerophobics and “old-timeys” are fortunate enough to know the true space of our planet. For the rest of us, Europe is a cold sandwich and two bad movies away. Asia is four movies and the risk of deep vein thrombosis. For the convenience of teleportation, we accept ignorance of our planet’s true size.
We also get a warped relationship with tourism. Imagine if it took a fortnight to get to Paris. Would you spend more than a fortnight there? You certainly wouldn’t stay at the Hilton the entire time. You might talk to a local. You might find something more interesting to do than the Tour Eiffel. You might even slow down and soak in the culture — not spritz it on, at arm’s length, with your smartphone.
I knew someone who did one of those Contiki tours. It’s a packaged experience that’s buses you through (not to) a dozen countries in 10 days. You get off the coach with enough time to see The Thing You’re Supposed To See and, if you’re lucky, make out with a local. If you’ve ever experienced the thrill of filling out a Subway Sub Club card, then you get how Contiki feels about travel. How ironic the brand is named for Thor Heyerdahl’s epic expedition. The real Kon-Tiki expedition was all journey: 100 days on a balsa wood raft in the Pacific. Spoiler alert: landfall wasn’t the point. It never is. When you donate a slice of your life to the journey, destination is only a part of it.
Time travel is like a pernicious personal assistant. It doles out chunks of time with one hand and erases understanding of time’s value with the other. Flight is an abbreviation and it’s worth remembering what it stands for.