Flying

I’m on fences about aeroplanes. You know the cold physics add up, but it’s one of the few occasions you really fear gravity for what it is; for what it will do.

My throat lumps every time the wheels leave tarmac. The lurch as the tail section dips, the engines screaming, you wondering if the last metre of the plane will scrape the hard top, pull the plane back, the wheels off, the rear section open.

I sit on planes and see my death in so many ways. All because I’ve paid for another human to take me up where humans shouldn’t go, and then to land safely at the other side. That isn’t a fear of flying. It’s being afraid of ineptitude.

Buy a flight and you’re paying for the advertising, the concept; the before and after. The airport ‘experience’ – all that marketing, the signage, the bright lights. Really the bit before flying is so high-concept you’re surprised more people aren’t disappointed to find that the modern commercial air fleet is old and ageing, all rivets and bulkheads.

As I get older, I realise the promise of future hasn’t quite come to pass. We’re not quite as tech as we like to think.

At the same time, this is the majesty of flight. A structured majesty, but all the same. It starts in corridors, beneath runways and baggage carriageways, all queues, all lines, all order. And then on takeoff, all this gets shat out of jet engines; blown backwards.

You can’t dress up a runway in customer service and fancy typeface. You can’t sugar the throttle and the thrust. A takeoff is all about precise engineering and managing the wind. It’s an untainted feeling, in so many different ways. You can tell me all about your special offers and in-flight menus and tellies and great deals on soggy bacon sandwiches, but Easyjet, British Airways, Ryanair, listen – not one of you can filter the feeling that your plane is flimsy and shaking, vibrating and rattling and grunting its way skyways; not one of you can market the exhilaration of making it.

Mainly, though, it’s the slow descent over a city by night that gets me. It’s one of the few things that leaves me genuinely, gormlessly, childishly astonished. It’s not the stadiums or the landmarks – it’s the street lights and the house lights, the cars and the traffic lights. It doesn’t matter the city, either. Everything flickers and glistens and sparkles, and on account of you can’t see people, you can think very highly of energy companies and energy grids – the hidden network of pipes and wires that handle so many watts, so many lights. It leaves me tingling and proud and feeling lucky. And that’s kind of ridiculous.

I could watch it for always. If a city by night were the last thing I saw before a messy landing, I wouldn’t bleat.

Also, happy new year!

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