I flew on business for decades. As a management consultant for forty years, I was on planes to somewhere and back every week. It was a necessity, part of the bargain when I committed myself to that profession. I knew it when I started.
Unlike some, however, I viewed the constant travel by air as bonus more than onus. Why? Because I love flying, and I love going places.
Not because of the frequent flyer miles. When I started in the 70s, frequent flyer programs hadn’t yet been invented. I just loved flying and experiencing places other than home then. I still do.
Why do I so love to travel, so enjoy flying? I’ve thought about that question all my life.
When I was young, I was passionate about trains. Something about the romance of where they came from and where they were going, and the marvel of the rail network. Steel rails mysteriously connected everything to where I stood. I spent a lot of time at train stations in awe of trains and railroads from the time I was a babe in arms.
At age 12 I was going alone by train from Raleigh to New York and back without my parents’ knowledge, tickets paid for with my own money earned from my paper route. I planned my own three-week trip across the country entirely by train in 1963 when I was fifteen, and in 1964 I took that journey without parents or adults in tow.
Concurrently, I discovered airplanes. As a kid, I convinced my very patient parents to take me many times to the Raleigh/Durham Airport. I was entranced by the majestic four-engine Eastern Airlines Lockheed Constellations that came and went at RDU in the 1950s. I could identify an original Connie (round windows) versus a Super G (square windows) by the time I was nine or ten. And I knew the difference between a DC-6 and a DC-7, too.
My first flights came at age 12 in 1960 on a Piedmont DC-3 and a Piedmont Fairchild F27 propjet—modern for the time.
But flying was expensive, and I had to pay for college and grad school. My first overseas trip—to Europe on a Sabena Belgian World Airways 707—had to wait until I saved enough money in 1973. I was already 25 and itching to go abroad. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. I’ve flown mil-lions of miles on more airlines than I can remember to every continent but Antarctica and so many times around the world that I lost count.
But, again, why? Why did I do it, and why do I do it still, just as enthusiastically now as on that first magic DC-3 flight in 1960?
American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay famously wrote in “Travel”:
“My heart is warm with the friends I make, And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going.”
The last line in that poem riveted me when I first read it in high school. That was exactly how I felt.
Why does her poem still excite me to get going? Maybe it’s partly due to another Millay quote:
“The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.”
Do I become bored and stale staying always in one place? Maybe. Even probably, but that’s still not my only motivation to fly.
Partly, it is because I love flying itself. Soaring up into the sky temporarily defeats the tyranny of gravity and, at the same time, makes me appreciate the sheer loveliness and grandeur of the earth. Things on the surface look better from way high up in the air, excepting the odd hideous zinc smelter.
Another reason: I love discovering and exploring new places and people, of learning how people live and trying to understand the prism through which they experience their world. Making new friends in other places, some from there, some travelers like myself from different faraway places, has always been richly gratifying. Some of those friendships have lasted a lifetime. Experiences in distant lands have ofttimes been unlike any I would have had at home. How can we understand our own existence if we do not grasp the principles and values by which others measure theirs?
Too, I still jump on planes with zeal because certain places call me back again and again, some due to fond memories (Italy; Germany), others for my love of the natural world (Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness of Montana; South Africa’s Kruger National Park; the canyons, mesas, mountains, and vistas of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado), and some to reaffirm friendships.
Whether picturesque or grungy, I also love port cities (e.g., New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cape Town, San Francisco, Rio, Seattle, Los Angeles).
Furthermore, and God help me for confessing it, I have always loved hanging around airports and train stations. They fascinate me, even the ugliest. I know that’s uncommon, but places that exist solely so people can congregate to travel are exciting to me.
Another factor is that I love airplanes themselves, from the wretched original 50-seat Canadair RJ to the 100-seat Anglo-French Concorde to the magnificent Boeing 747 (all models) to the Airbus A380. Planes are enchanted things that routinely defy gravity to speed us great distances. When I see an airplane landing or taking off from the ground, I am always envious that I’m not on board.
To be candid, I must acknowledge (and as many posts on this blog confirm) that I simultaneously love and loathe the varied airline service offerings. But even my rants against the worst of them cannot keep me away. I love to hate the in-flight cabin experiences I sometimes have, but I still love flying.
Lastly, going away from the familiar and coming back engenders renewed gratefulness for home. At least it does for me. Leaving and returning fosters appreciation for the monotony of daily life because flying to places far away are rarely dull, are not routine, and hardly humdrum. My travels by air, spaced at intervals, keep me balanced. Travel keeps me from going stark raving mad, bringing to mind another Edna St. Vincent Millay quote:
“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it’s one damn thing over and over.”
We hear from childhood that life is short. What we don’t learn until adulthood is that it goes by faster and faster with each passing year. I always yearned to experience life fullest, to see every possible manifestation of life on this dazzling blue orb. As I move into my seventy-second year, I am grateful that airplanes have made my dreams come true.