Why Aren’t We More Excited By Flying?

1 May

This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane, roughly 30,000 feet above somewhere in Europe. My destination is the Greek island of Kos, where I intend to do nothing but read, eat, drink, sleep and possibly snorkel in fairly shallow water (not a great swimmer) for seven days.

Artist's impression.

Artist’s impression.

The holiday was sprung on me by good friends who were going as a party of six until one person dropped out. “Seven days,” they said. “Gorgeous weather. All inclusive. All you’ll have to pay for are the admin fees to change the booking over to your name.”

Incredibly, I had to give it some thought. Granted, it was about 90 seconds’ worth of thought which culminated in my boyfriend saying, “Are you out of your fucking mind? Go.” Anyway, the long and the short of it is that less than three weeks later I’m going to Greece.

Flying was something I didn’t do until fairly late in life. When I was growing up we never had much money, and couldn’t dream of going on a foreign holiday, and when I was able to go abroad with my school that was always on a rather smelly bus full of people snogging or vomiting up a vile slurry of Tizer and Refreshers before we’d reached the Bryn Glas tunnels. The first time I ever flew was in 2003, when I was 25 years old.

Me in 2003. And no, contrary to what this photo may suggest, "flying" in this context is not a euphemism for tripping my nuts off.

Me in 2003. And no, contrary to what this photo may suggest, “flying” in this context is not a euphemism for tripping my nuts off.

I loved it almost immediately. Though it was a night flight, we passed over thunderstorms above France, and if you think lightning looks impressive from the ground, you should see it from up there. Truly spectacular. I’d been a little apprehensive before we flew, worrying that turbulence would be the most terrifying experience I had ever had, and once we’d landed my friends (who had been spread out over several rows) confirmed it was the single worst flight they had ever been on. During one particularly bumpy interlude the woman across the aisle from me began clutching her rosary and praying in Spanish. And I loved every second of it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m unaware of the perils, or that it doesn’t bother me. When flying, the possibility of the plane exploding in mid-air or nose-diving into a mountain are pretty much all I can think about. But overriding all that is a single thought:


"I'm fucking flying, Jack!" "Er... potty mouth?"

“I’m fucking flying, Jack!”
“Er… potty mouth?”

The funny thing is, airports and the whole experience of flying seem designed to take your mind of that simple fact, or to downplay it. Airports do their damnedest to make flying the dullest thing you can do. Entering an airport should feel like walking into Disneyland. There should be aviation-themed musical numbers, and Brian Blessed over a Tanoy bellowing, “GREETINGS, TRAVELLER! PREPARE TO GO JETTING INTO THE STRATOSPHERE!”

Dressed like this. Obviously.

Dressed like this. Obviously.

When boarding the plane they should fill the cabin with the theme from 633 Squadronand the cabin crew should hand everyone flying goggles and a leather cap, even though technically you won’t need them. After the safety messages the captain should shout, “CHOCKS AWAY!” or “AND… WE… HAVE… LIFT-OFF!”

At the very least, your fellow passengers should behave as if they would really appreciate all of these things, and not as if they are sitting on a bus.

Oh, I’ve tried doing the whole “blase frequent flyer” act, settling down in seconds, reading a newspaper or magazine during take-off, but it’s no use. I’m not reading a word. I’m looking out of the little window and thinking, “I’M FLYING. I AM FUCKING FLYING.”

And yet whenever I think that (and I think it almost every time I fly), I feel like I’m quite alone. Everyone else looks bored, scared, claustrophobic, or like they wish they’d had a piss before boarding because they’re not quite sure if they can hold it in until the seat-belt lights go off.

All flights should be a bit like this.

All flights should be a bit like this.

Flying home from New York in 2009 we came in to land at Heathrow at around 7am on a cloudy September day. The sun was just coming up, and the clouds were incredible. It was how I imagine it might feel to fly through the canyons of Mars; vast, otherworldly, and breathtakingly beautiful; I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And yet, looking around the plane, all I saw were tired and restless faces. People checking their watches, yawning, rolling their eyes.

I wanted to get up and yell, “People, what is wrong with you? We are flying. Look! Look out there! Those are clouds! We are flying in and out of actual fucking clouds!” But I realised that would at the very least result in an air marshal’s taser to the neck, and thought better of it.

"Express your enthusiasm. I double dare you, motherfucker."

“Express your enthusiasm. I double dare you, motherfucker.”

Perhaps the reason most passengers don’t share my enthusiasm is that to think too hard about what they’re actually doing (i.e. cruising at a couple of hundred miles an hour, 8 or 9 miles above the surface of the earth) is terrifying to them. Better to think of the plane as a bus, and the journey as one long and tedious commute. Better for airports to resemble nothing so much as bloated shopping malls peppered with Burger Kings and Garfunkels, and an opportunity to stock up on cheap vodka, fags and perfume. Make the act of flying (of fucking FLYING) just the same as any other journey, and it becomes less scary.

I can only imagine, when we are finally jetting off to distant worlds, that spaceports will be modelled on Swindon town centre or Newport bus station.

"The next service to arrive at Terminal 3 will be the 14:36 service to the Moons of Saturn. Calling at Mars, Phobos, Deimos..."

“The next service to arrive at Terminal 3 will be the 14:36 service to the Moons of Saturn. Calling at Mars, Phobos, Deimos…” (Photo: Welshpete via Flickr.)


4 Responses to “Why Aren’t We More Excited By Flying?”

  1. Ben Gallivan May 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    You like flying, don’t you? Maybe it’s the irregularity of your flights that keeps the excitement going? I’m not boasting by any means as I’ve flown a lot for work but since my first flight at the age of 20, I have made around 40 journeys by plane and fear I have turned out to be one of the yawning, clock-watching types. Mainly because I’m worried about missing a connection on the ground.

    Granted, the first and last 20 minutes will find me with my face glued to the window trying to spot landmarks but overall I think I’m over it.

    That all may be down to the ridiculous service provided by passport control on British soil. I refuse to believe queuing existed before that did.

    • thedaillew May 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      It does depend on where I’m sat on the plane. When I flew *to* New York I was in the middle seat of the middle block, as far away from a window as it’s possible to be, and apart from the “whoosh” of taking off and the fact that I was able to scam two dinners, from cabin crew serving in both aisles, that flight was BORING.

  2. trixfred30 May 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    The last time I looked like that was 1997. Happy Days? Not quite we nearly got knicked by the police on the way home…

  3. Ally Atherton (@AllyAtherton) May 4, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Great post, I haven’t been on a plane since I was about 14! You’d have to do a MR T and knock me out first! Maybe one day.

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