(Photo credit: jmv)

You’ve Deluded Yourself About Flying (It’s Not As Glamorous As You Pretend To Make It)

The fact that we can fly through the air in a bent shape of metal is miraculous. As comedian Louis CK says, “you’re sitting in a chair in the sky!”.

Despite this, on the 1st of July last year, I made a resolution to not set foot on a plane again in 2015.

See, I HATE planes.

This isn’t because of some irrational fear of flying (which is said to be far safer than driving). It’s not even because I fly especially frequently. No, it’s because the experience is f**king awful, yet we seem to have deluded ourselves into thinking it’s joyous.

Last week, when asked why I had made such a resolution, I was frustrated to find my seething rage towards air travel didn’t produce an articulate, locked-and-loaded answer, but instead caused me to stutter and mumble something about flying taking too long.

Having now had some time to think about it, here are thirteen reasons why flying is so terrible:

– Every subsequent person you meet at an airport is the most depressing person you’ve ever met. Security personnel do an incredibly important service, and I’m all for firmness, but do you really have to look at me like I’ve just murdered a puppy? What are you like when going home to your family at the end of a full day of acting like that?

– A 3-hour flight actually takes 10 hours. Any flight time given is lift-off to landing. Add in two extra hours for getting on and “deplaning”, three for security either side, two for aimlessly waiting around, travel time way outside your city to the nearest airport, and it’s taken the best part of a day.

– There is an unbelievable amount of hassle that comes before you even set off for the airport: the paranoia of filling out passport information (God help you if you make a typo), online check-in which, should you forget to do it, puts you at the back of a fifty-person line…

60% of my ticket is tax?! How as consumers have we allowed that to happen?

– People talk up first class. Let’s shatter the aura and look at what it actually is: a chair enclosed in a slightly less small space than the rest. It’s more than outdone by sitting on a couch in any living room and having a friend bring you a drink. Just because you’re 10,000 feet in the air doesn’t make it better, or you a better person.

– Dehydration, crap food, endless sitting — it’s one of the unhealthiest things you can do. Now that most planes have wifi, due to the reduced atmosphere at altitude, Dr. Jack Kruse compares planes to being inside “microwave ovens” for the radiation passengers get exposed to. Yum.

– It’s impossible to get any meaningful work done. The sheer ergonomic confines of a bad seat and tiny table make it so.

– Airlines screw you over at every available opportunity. Once flying with RyanAir, having not printed a boarding pass (assuming in 2015 I could show it on my phone), they tried to charge me €100! It turned out there was a free printer right around the corner from the check-in desk.

– If you fly with a sinus infection — which, if you fly regularly enough, you will invariably end up with — it’s incredibly dangerous and has caused many people to lose hearing in one ear. Further to that, no matter your state of wellness getting on, you won’t be able to hear anything properly for the rest of the day (sometimes two) till your ears pop.

– Every time I get on a transatlantic flight, the crew bases the “sleep time” (i.e. turning all the lights off) at the complete wrong time. I wonder why everyone suffers such jet-lag when you’re made to sleep for the timezone of the place you’re leaving, not the place you’re going (sometimes the middle of the day in both!).

– Did I mention the endless sitting? You can’t get up without causing a commotion to your row. If you do, just going to the bathroom means you get caught by a service trolley that stops you from ever getting back.

– The perceived ease of it leads to utterly frivolous travel. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in Self Reliance, “At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.” In other words: you’re miserable here? You’ll be miserable there too.

– It brings out the absolute worst in people: queuing in lines and having people jostle to cut in front because they’re late; people reclining their seats because they don’t care about you; standing up as soon as the plane has landed when everyone knows we’re going nowhere for another thirty minutes.

***

We’re at thirteen and that’s with no mention of delays, screaming babies, or the massive disruption going anywhere inflicts on your everyday life.

No matter how many Instagram pics you take, you’re not fooling anyone. There is absolutely no glamour in flying. The only redeeming thing about it is that it gets you there.

In spite of all this, we give flying a strange prestige, and like to brag to our friends and colleagues that we’re getting on a plane (or complain about having to do so because that makes us feel important). Any time I hear someone talking about collecting miles or reward programs, I pity them. If I suck it up just enough, I get to waste even more of my life carrying on in a slightly less uncomfortable seat!

Flying is not an accomplishment. People include ‘number of flights’ as a stat for success in all they’ve done that year. What actually came from the result of your trip? Did you really go somewhere and enjoy the place, or did you spend the entire time in a conference room and meetings? Tell me that, not that you got on a plane.

Could planes be better?

I’m not writing this piece as a hater of all travel. The experience of a train journey is far superior.

A connecting flight means hours sat in a sterile departure lounge. A connecting train ride means I get to go and explore a new city for an hour. There’s a romanticism to train journeys that there just isn’t with flying (think of couples spending their honeymoon on the Orient-Express.) You’re able to get up and move around freely, and quiet carriages allow for actual alone time.

Over the holidays, with my family in Rome, I decided to take the train (London > Paris > Turin > Rome) instead of getting a direct flight. The trip was one of the best things I’ve done, and the fact it took the whole day was a bonus. That’s the difference between an experience — something to savour––and an annoyance — to be gotten through as quickly as possible.

(The view for hours, Paris–Turin.)

Maybe you love flying. Good for you if you do. But I am sure that deep-down, if you consider the actual experience (and aren’t a crazy person), you will share a similar view.

Ultimate disappointment in life comes when we have high expectations. I’m not saying never get on a plane again. I certainly will. But I’m honest with myself that there’s no enjoyment, and will keep the number of planes I get on to an absolute minimum.

Is the trip really going to be worth it? Might it be better not to get on the plane? If you have to, please stop pretending it’s the best thing ever.

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