Thinking Differently About Planes: How Air Travel Can Be Good for Your Soul

United Airlines Flight 817 to Portland.

I’m not the biggest fan of United (who charges for over-large bag dimensions?). But air travel in general is a soulful endeavor for me, so I can forgive my employer their choice to book a cheaper airline and still bask in the beauty of the flight itself.

Yeah, I said it. Flight is f**king beautiful.

When we fly, we aren’t just soaring at impressive speeds across the globe in a semi-comfortable chair. We are being forced, I think in a good way, to see the size and scope of the world. Amid the pressurized air and overpriced snacks and TSA protocols there is still an uncommon enlightenment to be found on a flight. The simple state of ‘between-cities’ reminds us there is so much in the world to see and so many people to connect with. Perhaps more importantly, being between cities puts us between ‘things we have to get done’. Flight time is mandatory stop time. Time to contemplate life, time to consider our place in the universe, time to breathe, and sit, and drink whatever we want in a plastic glass. Sounds simple — ordinary even — but time for such things tends to escape us in our daily, ground-driven lives.

United may not offer free bag checks or single-serving peanuts, but they spare no expense with their in-flight magazine: Hemispheres. The slick seat-back offering features Reza Aslan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey about her new faith-derived, people-focused docu-series: “Belief”, as well as articulate descriptions of an enviable 3-day journey through Guatemala, a french bakery in Los Angeles, a trendy hotel in Hong Kong, and the adventure to rival all adventures in the Catskill wilderness alongside “celebrity survivalist” Bear Grylls. Sure, all magazines are driven by adverts and profit, but the great thing about airplane mags (beyond catering to the lost art of reading words — on paper) is they simultaneously get us thinking globally and locally. They help us fantasize about our next adventure, our next retreat, our next neighborhood pastry. Because Hemispheres has to cater to such a massive audience, they have to dig deep to offer travelers of every age and interest and wealth bracket something worth reading. So as a result, I am curious about a new book recommend, I’ve rekindled my interest in volunteering in Guatemala, I have an image in my mind of camping in the Catskills I hope to make a reality, and I’ve contemplated the meaning of faith, both to me and to humans the world over. Flight is a beautiful thing, people. Even if you are a tried-and-tested Zzzquil-popping, neck-pillow-clad believer in full flight-duration sleep, at least you’ll get the satisfaction of resting a mile above the earth’s surface and waking up somewhere new like it’s no big deal.

So, before you groan your way through airport security, lament the lack of overhead storage for your roll-on (they’ll check it for free!), or stress yourself out wondering whether you’ll make your connection, try considering the journey you’re on. A flight is both a remarkably fast mode of transport and a temporary stoppage — a legitimate opportunity to surrender your schedule and take a minute to read about a place you’ve never been or a trip you’ve never thought to plan. Be reminded that the world is ridiculously accessible. Maybe try that meditation app you’ve heard about. Write a journal entry or a letter to someone in your thoughts. Watch a free movie. Listen to that podcast you’ve been putting off. Ask your seat neighbor about the coolest place they’ve ever traveled to. Allow the plane to carry your body through the sky, let the thoughts about what you have to do, should do, feel obligated to do, etc. melt off for a quiet hour and just think indulgently about what makes you happy. Because you can.

Bonus tips for a satisfying flight:

Compression socks: as an athlete and a lover of my own knees I can’t recommend these highly enough for people whose lower joints get stiff/swollen on longer flights. They’re basically just really tight socks but they’ll make a difference in your comfort level during/post flight.

A carry-on that fits under your seat: No stress about compartment space above, no heavy lifting overhead. Win.

Meditation: planes are very practical spaces for quieting the mind. Try an app, give a guided audio track a listen, or just close your eyes and count your breaths for 10 minutes.

Reading the damn in-flight mag: it will get you thinking about places you want to go and other cool sh*t. And it’s free.

Letting your flight time be whatever it is: Missed connections, waiting on the tarmac, cancelations and delays — they happen to everyone. Family, friends, hotels, and work folks will understand and things will reschedule accordingly. I mean, you’re flying through the sky for thousands of miles in safety and comfort. That sh*t gets complicated sometimes.

Happy Flying!