Today I called my AirMiles customer service lines — you know, those phone calls where you usually get put on hold forever, and consequently decide to just not bother with anymore? Yeah… Well, tedious logistical to-do list aside, looking at my air miles made me think about flying. Not much the destinations; but rather, the process of flying from place to place itself.
The first time I flew solo was the summer after high-school. I flew 5 hrs across the continent to partake in a 3-week French language immersion program – excitement and nervousness all wrapped up in one. Since then, I have flown red-eye from Seattle to New York, and regretted having chosen that particular flight-time as I struggled to stay awake and inevitably wasted away a beautiful sunny morning in the Big Apple; I have gotten lost at the LA international airport and almost missed my connection; I have actually missed a flight once, and ended up staying overnight at the JFK just like Tom Hank’s character in the movie “The Terminal”; I’ve had pleasant conversations with a former NATO employee on a flight to Frankfurt, but also tried to escape from creepy conversations when an Italian old man decided to chat me up to meet his son… In these cases, I was travelling alone.
To me, I’ve often – like many others tend to do – focused on the “arrival” side of these flying journeys, the destinations. It wasn’t until this summer, when I was in line at the Budapest airport at 4 in the morning (nope, red-eye flight lesson not learned… evidently), that I was reminded of the interesting aspect of this process itself. This time, I was not alone: as my friend and I waited to go through security, after a rather stressfully-adventurous night, we finally had the chance to slow down the pace a little. He paused and looked at me: “It feels like such a novelty to be flying with someone”, he said thoughtfully. Having lived in several countries and studied on two different continents, this frequent flyer has done most of his travels alone. The flight we were about to take that morning was one of the several we had planned for the summer.
We always talk about the importance of the company you keep, and how the experience from any particular trip is heavily influenced, if not determined, by the travel companions you have. With that in mind, his observation about the process of flying itself really struck me. A lot of the time, friends depart from various locations and meet up in one place; or one flies towards another, and the magical moment of reunion happens at the airport’s Arrival. But to actually board a flight with someone (disclaimer: not counting family vacations here), armed with the same hopes and ideals about their mutual destination, it might just indeed be a much more rare occasion than I cared to notice, and a bliss that I’ve ignored up till then.
The following times we flew together, I cherished that process as much as our time spent in each and every place these flights had taken us to. When I finally had to leave, I found myself really worrying, for the first time, about not knowing when I’ll be back again…
P.S. I’ve always been a sucker for ariel views outside those tiny windows. On the 24-seater plane flying up north into the Norwegian backcountry, the camera managed to capture more-or-less of what was so mesmerizing (see photo). But other times, such as when flying at night, one is better off to just take it all in mentally than to fiddle with a camera; I found this note I had jotted down on a red-eye: “The phone camera of course cannot capture it – either Mt. St. Helen’s, Mt. Rainier’s, or Mt. Baker’s peak over there right out above the clouds. Against the dark night sky, it seemed rather mystical. It came into sight almost immediately after we came through the clouds (um… it’s probably not St Helen as the peak is not volcano flat shaped; rather it’s a snow capped pointy peak), just chilling right there in the night like an iceberg above the sea of clouds. The darkness cloaking over it all… charming, and calming.”