So it turns out that I really, really hate flying.
Which is an odd thing to learn about oneself, after 34 years believing the opposite.
Did I really used to look forward to elongated periods of time in a pressurised metal container above the clouds, time that I saw as completely my own because the speed at which I arrived at my destination was completely out of my control?
Did I, at ten years old, announce with bright eyes that I did not sleep on aeroplanes, and then stubbornly enjoy every scheduled movie and in-flight snack until we reached our destination?
Did I really fly solo the 22 hours to Australia in a middle seat?
Because these are the only stories I remember, a few weeks out from whatever my last journey was. And so, back on the ground, I convince myself that I love air travel … until I get back up there again.
Because overnight flights, especially those in which you cross time zones, fuck with your head. Because once you turn 30, there’s no way you’re getting comfortable in the few inches of space you have been allocated. Because seat recliners. Because the food, which was never all that great to start with, seems to be getting worse (apart from on that last American Airlines flight the other week, where breakfast came with yoghurt and granola topping).
I’ve never been a nervous flier, although I threw up once on a tiny, propeller-driven plane between Philadelphia and Nashville on which the stewardess actually said y’all. But this summer, for the first time ever, I had a panic attack in the middle seat of a Thomsons package jet back from Naples, and if it hadn’t been for a spare seat in the emergency exit row I don’t know what I would have done.
Like, what do they even do with you, thirty thousand feet above everything you know?
And while I do not for one second harbour rose-tinted nostalgia for the days in which air travel was a luxury, and everybody drank champagne and smoked cigars (and I’m old enough to remember the smokers’ row at the back of the plane, for those of you who wonder why they still bother to install smoke detectors in the toilets) I feel as though we’ve gone too far in the other direction. We no longer expect to be treated with dignity without having to pay a little extra. Gold class. Frequent flier. I’m convinced that half the categories they call for pre-boarding are invented. Wait your turn, peasants, your six hundred pounds matter not.
Thanks to the growth of budget airlines, we’ve almost become accustomed to treating air travel as a right. And so it is that there will be five flights full of actual commuters between Glasgow and London on the average weekday – I’ve been one of them myself – who all have their eyes closed to the fact that each takeoff rips the planet a little further apart.
And yet I do think it’s wonderful that the world is getting smaller, and that I’ve been able to meet almost all of the friends I have made through this online hobby of mine. I’ve been as guilty of begrudging air tax, and choosing weird dates and convoluted routes to get the cheapest fares, as you have. I want to see as much of the world as I can, and I think that everybody else should be able to do the same thing.
Twenty-seven thousand, six hundred and thirty-three miles in the air this year. No wonder I’m scunnered, and a little bit guilty.