Long distance air travel is like living on drugs.
A while ago I took a whole bunch of flights from South East Asia to Europe and I spent days in planes and airports, falling asleep to surreal dreams and waking to the same.
The sterile, futuristic feel of each airport I passed through was enough in itself to disorient me – the flow of people who wanted to be Anywhere But Here, the fast food joints all priced in dollars, the automatic walkways and the vague certainty that the minutes were ticking down to where a desperate flight clerk would call my name out on the loud speaker…
I walked down so many gangways, passed so many desks and died of thirst in so many lounges as they took my water bottles off me, that in the end I felt like I was on drugs. All of the airports in the world merged into one until I came to believe that it was actually always the same airport that held me prisoner for half a day at a time.
I tried to hold onto my sanity by passing the hours in airport bookshops while I waited for the connection flight. On one shelf were books like The End of Oil and other popular books predicting the economic meltdown, giving the lowdown on economic imperialism and the death of the planet.
On the shelf just above it were books like The Starbucks Experience and tributes to Richard Branson, explaining how an average schmuck like you could also get rich by exploiting the planet.
A couple of flights later I landed in Taiwan and the DVD screen in front of me introduced our arrival with a cartoon musical sequence. Then, without changing the theme, the screen warned that drug smuggling in Taiwan is an offence punishable by CAPITAL PUNISHMENT!
That’s all folks.
My flight over the Pacific was terrifying, mainly because I was watching Children of Men, an alarmingly realistic portrait of future social breakdown. When we hit the worst turbulence of my life I had to pause the movie and calm my heart.
I thought of calling the waitress to ask if everything was okay but I knew she’d only lie. Surely they have drugs on airplanes to calm nervous passengers? It didn’t help that I recently read that no commerical plane had ever landed safely on water. I pictured a freezing death in the Pacific…
Then, landing in Los Angeles and discovering an airport as disorganised as anything I’d seen in the third world, the louspeakers warned us:
“You are not required to pay for any legal services in this airport. The Los Angeles Airport does not authorise any attorneys operating on these premises.”
I was used to warnings about pickpockets and illegal taxi drivers but itinerant lawyers?
Only in America.
Lastly, I flew to England and whilst standing in line at passport control, I saw 2 passengers approach a gate at the side, look at a camera and pass through without showing their passports. I went up to them afterwards to ask if they diplomats;
“Nah,” they said with excited smiles, “It’s eyeball recognition. Iris scans. You can registed in a booth in the airport and then skip the queues.”
Minority Report wasn’t a movie about the future. It’s already here.