Air travel seems to be a bit of a controversial thing. Some people hate it. Some people love it. Some people just look at it as a way to get from point A to point B.
I belong to the second category. So, without further ado:
- The adventure.
I don’t know if other people feel this, or if I even feel it when I’m not travelling alone or with a group of friends. But when I’m through security and off in the world of hard-to-navigate concourses and overpriced food, I feel like I’m not just going somewhere, I’m going somewhere. I’m striding out into the big, wide, world. Responsibility yep, that’s me.
- The miracle of flight.
Airplanes are actually pretty incredible when you think about it. They’re big and fat and made of metal, but also they manage to fly.
Birds actually need to have hollow bones to weigh less in order to make it off the ground. But airplane engines are really freaking heavy, and they manage to propel this thing literally tens of thousands of feet in elevation. I always sort of feel like I’m from the future when I settle in and watch the scenery diminish out the window.
- The culture combinations.
I’m from Atlanta, home to one of the busiest international airports in the world. Walking from security to my gate, I can easily hear twelve or thirteen different languages, and I can see the different fashions and styles from different places. It’s beautifully diverse. Airports are a crossroads for so many people who will never meet. I know at least seven of my friends were in the same airport at the same time as me, but… well, two ships passing in the fluorescent-lightbulb noon light?
- The people-watching
Similar to the above. I’m a writer, and I’m constantly looking for some new character detail to incorporate. I tend to pick up those details by people-watching in busy places, and… well, there is no better place to do that than a place in which people are coming from Hong Kong and going to Cancún, or coming from France and going to Taiwan or Dubai. People carry so many elements of who they are on the outside, without thinking about it, and that creates a lot of opportunities for a writer like me. I can ask questions in my head like, where did that scarf come from, or what would bring a person to Atlanta, or even what causes a person to drink sprite instead of cranberry juice? And then I get to make up those answers, and that’s where I get characters, or snapshots, and then I can go and write short stories, or poetry, or whatever it is that I end up writing, from there.
- The destination
Okay, this one is pretty obvious. I love landing wherever I’m going, and looking around at baggage claim to find whoever is meeting me. I love knowing that I’m about to go off and have fun, to climb a mountain, to go to a summer program, or to visit a college. The destination isn’t just a physical place, it’s also the people who are there, whether that’s family or friends, peers or co-workers… I get excited to see them, every time.
- The view.
Especially if I have the window seat, I love watching the ground grow tiny, reduced to geometric patterns smaller than a postage stamp. As long as I’m below cloud cover, the world is reduced to what looks like the cover of a John McPhee book, or one of my dad’s more abstract photos. And then, above the clouds, the view resembles an ocean more than it does puffy water vapor. Even if I’m seated directly next to the wing, the view never fails to astound me. Then, the landing view is just as intriguing, as the ground seems to grow bigger, and I can always get a good sense of the scenery of a place by flying over it at a low altitude. My two favorite cities to land in so far are Chicago and Boston, because of the clean lines of the beaches leading up to the cities, with real-life, actual trees everywhere.
It’s also particularly interesting to fly over large swaths of the east and midwest when the snow hasn’t melted for springtime yet. I could see large patches of the map, looking like someone spilled flour and powdered sugar all over a printout of a Google Maps satellite view. It’s gorgeous, and it’s also absolutely unearthly… which is probably why I like it.
- The quiet.
I live a very noisy life. I go to a school full of social teenagers, I’m in a loud and generally chaotic youth group, and my house is about as far from quiet as it gets. I never really get to just plug in a pair of earbuds and stop doing things, so that I can simply take a deep breath, open a book, and read. Or even just watch the aforementioned beautiful view. Or close my eyes, and do absolutely blissful nothing. Especially when flying alone, that two-hour flight is a good relaxation place for me. I can sit and just be for a while, but it’s not such a long while that my legs cramp up and I feel gross after a day of being absolutely sedentary.
Air travel is everything that I love about travel, with the additional magic of being several thousand feet off the ground. It’s a routine, a ritual, but there’s something drastically different about it every time, whether that’s the airport food you eat, or the gum you chew as the flight takes off and lands. Yes, air travel can be annoying. Yes, there can be hang-ups and snags every which way. But even so. Something inside of me is more than willing to put up with all of the frustration for the sake of the pieces that make it wonderful.