It’s 4:05 PM on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in Wichita, KS. I’m sitting in seat 23A on an Embraer ERJ-145 watching YouTube videos while I wait for us to push back from the gate to head south to Houston, TX. We were supposed to leave at 3:05. We boarded at 3:30.
‘The maintenance crew should be here in 10 minutes’, our rather Texan sounding pilot said, again, just as he did 30 minutes ago, ’30 minutes tops and we’ll be on our way’. Something on the plane is broken, and the pilot insists it’s unimportant. He tells us, and I quote, “It’s not a safety issue, but the federal government needs us to dot the tees and cross the eyes”. Yeah, this guy is definitely a Texan. He probably hates Obamacare.
At this point I’m cursing my decision to fly on United again. The last time I did the same thing happened and the flight got cancelled after 5 hours of delays. I message a group of friends on Facebook lamenting my woes.
“This is fucking bullshit” is, as I recall, what I said. I think it was rather eloquent. “This is why you should drive” replies fellow Fast Not Loud contributor Jay Lauer. I don’t think he’s ever flown.
Why didn’t I drive, you might ask? After all, I have stated my love for cars here in the past. I even bought a brand new Mustang not more than two months ago, and have expressed on this very blog how good of a highway cruiser it is. Surely driving is the better way to travel?
It isn’t. While I am certainly a self-proclaimed car enthusiast I’ve been an aviation enthusiast far longer. I love airplanes, I love air travel, and I’ll take airline travel at its worst over a long drive every time.
At 4:45 we push back from the gate and taxi to the runway. Only an hour and forty minutes late, not too bad. I look out the window as we line up on the center of the runway, admiring the rather elegant looking Cessna Citation X sitting on the executive ramp. I hear the distinct sound of the Embraer’s Rolls Royce engines spooling up followed by the smooth shove back into the seat of acceleration. Within 30 seconds we pitch back and seemingly leap into the air. A minute later and we are a few thousand feet over Wichita. I watch as the flaps retract, pondering if they’re composite or aluminum construction. There’s very few rivets, so I decide it’s probably carbon fiber. I try to see my house, and recognize a park near it.
Within minutes of the engines spooling up we are banking to the right, flying close enough to a cloud that I feel I can almost reach out and touch it. The upbeat tempo of deadmau5’s Pets provides a fitting soundtrack to our departure through my headphones. At this moment I realize I am grinning, I am at peace.
Flying affords us an opportunity to literally get above it all. I am no longer thinking about what that liquid I stepped in at security was. I am no longer cursing at the airline for once again being so god damn incompetent. I am no longer thinking about work…okay, time out for a second: that part’s not really true, but that’s only because I design parts of airplanes for a living so when I’m flying it’s hard not to think about how the plane I’m on differs from the ones I design. Anywho…I’m no longer thinking about the frustrations of work, of meeting deadlines or saying the right thing to advance my career. In this moment all I am thinking is ‘wow, Kansas is actually pretty beautiful from up here’.
I look down from the window and see the highway I could have driven rushing by at a few hundred miles per hour. I put down the seatback tray table to rest my laptop on so I can type this very article. I think about all the stop signs I’m avoiding, all the idiots on the road sitting in traffic outside Oklahoma City, which is already visible on the horizon. We may have left late, but we are already only an hour away from Houston. In a mere 90 minutes we will have traveled 700 miles across 3 states. In just about 4 hours total, including that pesky delay, I will have gone from sitting on the couch with my cat watching a middle aged woman win a brand new Chevrolet Nova on an old episode of Let’s Make a Deal to sitting down for dinner with my Mom and Dad whom I haven’t seen since thanksgiving.
Every time I fly I find myself in awe of what modern air travel has afforded us. Personally, I’ve been given the ability to quickly cross the country and visit family members scattered coast to coast and I’ve flown halfway around the world and seen incredible sights in Israel. For people like my brother, air travel has allowed his business to thrive as he travels all around North America making deals. For some, air travel has literally saved their lives by flying them to hospitals far away to get treatment they so desperately need. For many others, air travel has given them a chance to say goodbye to fathers, mothers, grandparents…a chance they might not have had if their only option was to drive.
I will always like cars and I will always love driving them, but they’ll never hold a candle to airplanes. Airplanes have forever transformed the way we humans interact with our world. They have erased borders, brought together cultures previously separated by thousands of miles of oceans, saved countless lives, and inspired generations of innovation. Eddie Rickenbacker, a great flying Ace from WWI, once said “Aviation is proof that, given the will, mankind has the capacity to achieve the impossible”.
For thousands of years, humans thought the sky was the limit, but over the last 100 years the sky has become our home. To me, the sky is everything.