Problems on a Plane

By Raisa Patel

At the age of 12, I memorized John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem "High Flight." I can still recite the World War II poem to this day. In the sonnet, aviator Magee extolls the virtues of flying – the fiery beauty of the open air, the powerful reverence of piloting a plane.

With respect to Mr. Magee, I beg to differ. Today, air travel is the bane of humanity’s existence, nothing like the romantic gallantry that wartime pilots penned in their letters home. The skies are dotted with airplanes full of sweaty people fortifying the walls of their personal bubbles. Unfortunately for them, their bubbles will be popped several times over, redrawn smaller and smaller until they cling to their owners like film over a hot liquid that has been left to cool for too long.

Last summer, I took a three-week trip to Europe and was reminded precisely why air travel is no friend of mine.

Airports are claustrophobic places. Regardless of size, you never forget that you are trapped inside a no-man’s land of unpleasant smells and constant noise.  To me, The Terminal is not a comedy. It’s a horror film.

Then there is that perennial question: Do I dress for comfort or style? I chose the former for my homeward journey, and suspect this is why the check-in lady surveyed me from beneath eyelids drooping with copious amounts of eyeliner and scorn. If you’re traveling solo, this is your chance to be someone intriguing. All assumptions about you will be made on the basis of how you look. The airport is your oyster, a phrase I took to heart because I found myself seated near a Prunier Seafood Bar in Heathrow at six in the morning. What is a seafood bar anyway, if not a place where a shrimp might knock back a cold one after a taxing day? And what on Earth is a Prunier? I later realized the term was related to expensive caviar and did not mean, as I originally thought, “extra pruney.”

 More unsettling than an airport, however, is the concept of hurtling through the atmosphere in what I can only describe as an oversized soda can. My eighth-grade physics teacher assured me that the principles of drag and lift make flight a perfectly logical phenomenon, but I don’t buy it. Those terms sound like something a middle-aged woman might request of her plastic surgeon. Anyway, the only drag I associate with flying involves dealing with passengers in all their irritating glory.

There’s nothing better than a nine-hour flight (which, incidentally, passes over your final destination seven hours in, a destination you will not arrive at for 13 hours yet because you are a cheap, layover-loving masochist) than the man in front of you reclining his chair with such oblivious vigor that your drink spills all over your lap. This was my journey travelling home, and the pain did not end there. The woman beside me chose, amongst a plethora of exhilarating options, to watch a documentary about guacamole. A man on her screen wore an antiseptically white hazmat suit, a choice of garb much too formal for mashing up some avocados. “I love guacamole!” the subtitles informed me he was saying, as he reached out a hazmatted hand to stroke the leathery fruit. Too stunned to look away, I lost my opportunity to watch Little Miss Sunshine for the seventh time.

At least there is always customs and immigration to look forward to at the end of a harrowing trip abroad. Because absolutely nothing induces an existential crisis-and-a-half in a recent university graduate with zero job prospects like a series of invasive questions about what you do.