Off into the Wild Blue Yonder

Post-Modern Perspectives on Air Travel

It was Christmas evening.  The setting was quite familiar: sitting around the house with family, playing cards, unapologetically stuffing our faces with pie and cookies.  CNN was on in the background providing ambient noise to mollify those awkward moments of silence which are quite typical of such gatherings.  The fill-in anchor was droning on about Christmas weather across the country and this year’s shopping trends for most of the evening, that is until suddenly there was ”Breaking News.” Now such announcements are by no means rarities in this era of 24-hour news networks, however, on this evening all the graphics and sound effects were warranted.  A terrorist attempt had occurred right in our backyard.  A Nigerian adolescent with gun powder infused skivvies had tried to blow up a plane unsuccessfully as it was landing at Detroit Metro Airport. Why he would choose Detroit, the city least likely in all of America to look at all different after being bombed, as his target was, and is likely to remain, unclear.

While the pundits of television news media quickly began to debate what the attempt meant for national security and world politics and whether or not Obama should cut his Hawaiian vacation short, I suspect that I was not alone in worrying most about how much more of a pain in the ass airport security was about to become.

I was scheduled to leave on an early morning flight to Seoul on December 26th and the underwear bomber decides to strike at DTW on Christmas Day? My most immediate concern was exactly how much I was going to have to disrobe to prove the absence of explosives on my person before entering the terminal that morning.  Additionally, I have recently and reluctantly become a frequent flyer.   Between residency interviews and my holiday trip to Korea to visit my girlfriend, I have logged over 30,000 miles in 3 months time. I have begun thinking in frequent flyer miles instead of US dollars and marveling at new luggage designs which enhance my ability to carry-on; I have made more “single-serving friends” than I care to count and have mastered my fake sleeping to avoid making any more.  Coincident with my transformation toward total air travel savviness, I have lamentably lost nearly all awe, wonder and appreciation for the fact that I am able to fly in the first place.  For less than $1,000, I can travel above the clouds, mountains and Pacific Ocean, traversing half the planet in less than a day while nibbling on peanuts and chuckling through the Vince Vaughn vehicle, Four Christmases. Yet somehow,I remain unimpressed or, worse yet, irritated even by the whole experience.  I recently woke up to the captain saying “if you look out your window to the left, you’ll see Mt. Fuji.”  My first thought was, “Do they have to announce everything?” As though flying through the air above the largest and most mystical Japanese peak was as pedestrian as someone leaving their lights on in a church parking lot.  The 21st century is well under way and the wonder of airline travel, especially for middle and upper class Americans, has simply become passé.  Long gone are the days in which people would don their Sunday best for a vacation flight to Florida or New York City.  Flying has become cumbersome and annoying for many of us, often the most dreaded part of the trip.

How have did we collectively arrive at this place where we whine and gripe to the extent that we do about something as miraculous as the ability to cross the country at 35,000 feet all during the course of an afternoon nap? The amount of human progress that was necessary for such a scientific and technological achievement as heavier-than-air (i.e.: not a zeppelin or hot-air balloon) flights carrying hundreds of passengers thousands of miles is mind-boggling. Countless scientists and visionaries, all of whom were smarter and harder working than me, devoted their lives to the pursuit of logistically feasible human flight.  And many of these forward thinkers never lived to witness human air travel, much less to hop on a February Southwest weekend special to Miami Beach to remedy a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.


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