As a teenager I used, to calm myself down and cool off my problems by walking my dog. Tracey, my trusty German shepherd dog, would walk with me through parks and roads, scrub lands and mountains, happily making path ahead of me, looking out for me and I was certain understanding me. I still am.
Fast forward some years and I’m no longer a teenager. Tracey is in dog’s Heaven (starting a chain of death that didn’t decimate my family; it simply reduced it to barebone) and I no longer have parks, scrub lands and mountains to walk with a tail-happy dog. I still need what my partner, soon to be sanctified by the Pope, calls “you-times”.
These days, then, it’s flying. Yes, I can hear the polar ice sheets melting and Friends of the Earth printing (on recycled paper, ça va sans dire) the signs they’ll use to picket my house. Yes, it’s quite a long shot from walking your dog. But, hey, I don’t own a car. I either use public transportation or walk (colleagues still refer to me like “that lunatic who still believes it’s AD 400 and he ain’t got no horses”). I buy local products. I don’t put the heater to 25 degrees (and that led to some heated discussions with a weak-boned SoCal guy I happen to house-share with). It’s, quite simply, my only luxury and I don’t do that often, only when the airlines – in their infinite grace – open up a window to get rid of my miles. When that happens I generally book a couple of flights to somewhere I can get without a visa, spend a day or half there and then get back, my bum still numb for too many hours on a coach seat and, if I don’t fly American, a pleasant sense of alcohol-induced hynebriation.
I suspect that a psychologist reading these lines and knowing my family history would not only raise his eyebrows, but’d also ask his friends to do the same. And you know what? I don’t care, because I like this little perk I give myself and if fixing my psyche would mean giving it up, well, I wouldn’t do have it fixed.
So, you might ask, why do you like it? Especially given that so many people around the globe seem to find air travel a necessary evil?
It’s a combination of factors, really.
Primarily, I like the idea of being on the move. I find myself at ease in places designed for people to move on quickly: such places – be them train stations, airports, ports, are for me fascinating. They are designed to process large amount of people and goods at any time, notwithstanding the day, season or weather, and also find the time to be pretty or astonishing (well, most times). And I like to people-watch the fellow travellers who happen to be going around those establishments while I do. We’re all out of our comfort zone, bar those recluded high up in the airline lounges (which I despise despite having a number of plastic cards saying I can get in there), and we all seem equal. After all, where else but at an airport do you happen to make friends with people you wouldn’t normally have the chance to talk to?
There’s also the pleasure of the flight in itself. Now, I’m not talking about all flights here. Between a 4 hours long pilgrimage to Lanzarote on Ryanair and a couple of months in juvenile I’d probably go for the latter, even though I’m a little bit too old for juvvie. But let’s admit it, most flights on most airlines are rather civilised, even today’s EK102 from Milan to Dubai on which I’m sitting, despite the fact that Emirates crams an ungodly 10-abreast in Economy. I like the feeling at liftoff, the roller-coaster of turbulence (a liking born out of necessity, honestly), the in-flight service, the intricate dance of the cabin crew and the feeling of landing somewhere new.
Generally I try to choose a window seat, where I’d spend my flight gently resisting the crew’s efforts to lower the shade completely. Watching the world outside is another great pleasure that flying can give. Take today, for example; it’s a sunny day in Southern Turkey as we fly above the city of Diyarbakir. I can see the intricate web of valleys that forms this part of Kurdistan sipping my whiskey and ginger ale and listening to Stone Roses with the same ease with which I’ve seen the sun making the lake Van’s water shimmer in the afternoon. Isn’t it great?
In a few hours I’ll be on the ground again, with just enough time for a stroll downtown and to appreciate the only thing in Dubai that I wholeheartedly like, its airport. Then I’ll be on a plane again, this time London-bound. Much like I used to do trailing behind Tracey in the alpine serenity, I’d have enough time to think about myself, the happenings of the last two weeks and where my life is heading to, all suspended in the relative tranquility that reigns up there at 37,000 feet.
The only drawback I can think of is that, at the end of the day, Theresa May’s finest await me at the UK Border.