fear of flying

Recent events have seen an Icelandic volcano bring much of the world’s air traffic to a standstill. For six days the skies above Europe have been quiet. It has given us a glimpse of how the world might be if or when the planes stop flying altogether.

As the aviation industry lurches tentatively back into action, its future seems more than ever suspended between desire and reality. How much longer can we expect to zip around the world with such ease?

Doubtless I will be labelled a doom monger when I itemise some of the factors stacked up against the indefinite future of air travel. While population growth is generating a demand for more and more planes, oil is running out, and the effect on the planet is unsustainable. This is miserable but well documented information that we are all to some extent in denial about.

What is more interesting is the value people individually place on travel. There always have and always will be those who travel in earnest. For them remains the endless quest of experiencing first hand other cultures and ways of life, of spending time among them, the better to understand our strange and wonderful world. Whether they are artists of some kind, writers or musicians, or just pilgrim souls committed to the itinerant life, they will continue their journey by any means available, often suffering privation and hardship. By their very nature they are effectively homeless. The road is their home.

This is not the case for most of us. In this jet age, so many of us cross the planet for short periods to get away from our everyday sedentary lives and return with a suntan, photos and trophies to show off to our neighbours. I suspect airports are full of people who have been dragged away by family or friends, when truthfully they would have much preferred to stay at home. I certainly know some who fit this description.

For the moment airlines and package holiday companies continue to seduce ordinary people into paying for trips, vacations and excursions. I wonder if that may begin to change soon. With TV and the internet providing better and better access to events and places worldwide, the casual traveller must be having second thoughts. Flying certainly isn’t glamorous any more. Unless you can afford first class, it is uncomfortable and tedious. Also, the age of cheap air travel is drawing to a close.

I have definitely taken advantage of this modern facility. I have moved about a good deal, and lived for periods of time in a number of different countries. However there is a downside. I now have family and friends scattered throughout the world. Most of them I rarely see. A hundred years ago, all the important people in my life would probably have been within a few hours of where I live.

Its my belief that in a hundred or so years from now, people will look back on this period as a peculiar blip in human history. Hurtling round the globe in winged, metal tubes? What for?

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