Some Diary-like Thoughts While I Was On the Plane: The Inherent Loneliness in the Jetsetting Lifestyle

When you board Qantas flights nowadays you are provided with a complimentary magazine designed for flight enthusiasts — those businesspeople whose expensive, glamourous existence involves a lot of time in planes. There’s little text in it — instead the thing is filled with full-page ads for up-market watches and perfumes and tailored suits. Ironically, the market for those ads is precisely the people least likely to read them: jetsetters who would be so blasé about the experience of flight that they don’t acknowledge the magazine at all, in fact they’ve probably read it through three times already they’re on planes so much; the sort of people who will ignore the flight safety demonstration just to show how un-special this experience is for them, compared to us mortals for whom flight is still an adventure. They sit alone in cloistered superiority, like a person reading Ulysses in public.

The ads are for people like me. I’m not being sold the watch or the Tiffany jewellery but the boutiqueness of the experience of flight itself. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of people on the plane with me are wearing t-shirts and jeans and are, like me, staring out the window during takeoff and marveling at the sunlight bouncing off this third dimension that the clouds seem to have discovered up here, solid now, not painted backdrops above us at all. There’s about a 7:3 ratio of civilian to disinterested businessperson, at least on this flight, but the double-page perfume spreads are telling me that this elevated affair is the domain of the very rich and the very individual. Exclusivity. The self is here to be catered to with a priori terrible foods like defrosted chicken wraps and free mid-tier booze[1], but that’s not necessarily the point: the point is how special and catered-for you feel, a steroid for the liberalism centres of the brain. While you may not be wearing Lancôme and driving an Audi, you’re certainly partaking in supremacies over others that capitalism is telling you that you deserve. Flight attendants dote on you. Captains speak in mellow tones and it feels like they’re addressing the remarks to you and you alone. Everyone gets their own television screen to choose what you want to watch. In the air, you are beholden to no one but yourself. The extent of the world is that cabin, everything exterior is Not Your Problem, it doesn’t even exist up here with the monotonic whir of a jet engine and the ghettos below you. You’re isolated from it, a mutually exclusive zone. Even the editorial of the Qantas magazine, about the author’s recurrent crying on planes due to the quarantine inherent in the concept, admits this feeling.

The life of the business or government jetsetter is being sold to me as a life of extreme glamour and fulfillment, but it seems to me a distancing thing: individualism as loneliness. When walking around the city for extended periods during first year, I always felt like I was inside a glass box, somehow outside of everything despite being physically within it. I still feel like this. Even at work, the main source of social contact for Marxists and capitalists alike, I feel this way, like I’m somehow separate, left out, alone. Anxieties I cannot explain or rationalise. Like a child left unpicked for soccer at lunch time, forever a spectator. The magazine is selling social status, that if I could give myself a Veblen wrapper that the anxieties would be relieved. Looking around the plane, and out the window to my left at the clouds that are impossibly real, an image the Qantas experience tells me is designed for me alone, Mr Hugo Boss, I can feel my liminal world shrinking.

One thing I do whenever I am in a hotel room with both height and a view of city lights is listen to the old man jazz radio on my phone and stare at the cityscape when it gets sufficiently late. It’s one of the few times I listen to and understand the emotive power of music. It produces a pleasant calming effect as you stare out into the nocturnal hours. My home is suburban and ground level so the novelty is electric. The music and lights evoke images at home in a Qantas magazine: sitting alone in a room, tie and top button undone, scotch on the rocks clinking as it melts, staring at nothing, contemplating while the world hustles and bustles below you. The overwhelming urban emotion for me is loneliness in a crowd. I stare out the window in an unfamiliar place surrounded by people who I will never have the guts to talk to and think about how immutable that situation is. Social connection dangles in front of you with no adequate context for receiving it. Intimacy teases you. Do the jetsetters pursuing the outward display of workful importance feel the same way? Do they stare out of windows pining for things close but out of reach? Or is their busy projection the salve for such cravings? Does any of this even occur to them?

[1] They can’t bust into the Qantas supply of cognac on the staunchly civilian 7pm SYD->MEL flight, but the aura of the thing still demands that the neoliberal eye for cost-cutting doesn’t go so far as VB and Tooheys New for everyone.