There are a lot of things that are to be dreaded before a long, international flight. For me, the very start of this dread begins with making my way to the airport. No matter how well I try to plan, I never seem to get the timing right. More often than not, I find myself stuck in gridlock traffic in a yellow cab somewhere in Queens, constantly refreshing Google Maps to see if I am going to miss my flight, while cursing myself for letting this happen, for the seemingly millionth time.
Then, once I get to the airport, the stress is compounded. I rush out of the taxi and move as fast as a person with a backpack on her back, a crossbody wrapped around her torso, and a suitcase trailing behind her can, towards check-in. I would probably move faster if I had mastered the art of packing lightly and efficiently, but I have not yet internalized those skills at this juncture. I then begin to sweat profusely and pant, with my hair in disarray, and the weight of all of my bags slowing me down. Loose straps from various bags entangle me. It’s like being stuck in quicksand, but instead, I just look stupid and all that’s at stake is missing my flight. Think of Kate Middleton, but the exact opposite—that’s me in these situations.
And, usually, I am not quite sure if I had left my phone in the taxi but I dare not slow down to check—because who knows what pocket of what bag I had stuffed it into—and I truly wonder if I am going to have to make other arrangements as I near the enormous line at check-in. And then, somehow, after I show my passport and confirm that my bag was packed by yours truly and was never once out of my sight, I run to the seemingly never-ending security line where my bag, jacket, or something has to be placed through the scanner twice, since the machines always have a wonderful way of finding a lip-gloss that I had thought was lost for the last six months.
Finally, it’s time to make a mad-dash for the gate, where the sweating and the panting make an unforgiving comeback, despite very unpopular demand. I then arrive at the gate at the very last second of the final boarding call, where the stewardess then, of course, explains to me that the only remaining overhead space is at the very back of the plane. The thought of fighting against the current, or waiting until everyone else gets off the plane, to retrieve my bag from the very last row adds a completely avoidable, extra layer of stress to almost every flight I take. Maybe next time, I tell myself.
But, even if you are on time, the rigmarole of airports still remains disagreeable, to say the least. I don’t think anyone likes going to the airport. It’s not a ‘fun’ activity. And lengthy air travel is often viewed similarly: ‘dreaded,’ ‘unpleasant,’ and ‘uncomfortable.’
And yet, despite being six feet tall and forced to remain in a tiny seat for a long period of time, I very much look forward to air travel—almost as much as I look forward to vacation itself.
When I was a teenager, I remember visiting my Aunt Joan in London and petulantly complaining about the length of the flight. She had recently come back from Australia, and of course, that alone made me remember that I had nothing to complain about, but I was surprised to hear that she enjoyed her time in the sky.
“No one can bother me in the air,” she had said.
I had found this utterly profound, as I am someone who is easily and (very unreasonably) irritated by every little thing. And from that day forward, my schema of air travel shifted. I no longer dreaded my time in the sky, but I looked forward to it. It became my time.
It is very rare that we have 6 or so+ hours to ourselves without interruption. It would be nearly impossible and impractical to be unreachable for that long on an ordinary day. It feels good to be forced to be disconnected, and air travel is a welcomed detox that allows for forced reflection. Use this time to mentally rebalance.
For me, when I return to the ground is when I return to my problems and stresses of the ground; when in the sky, it becomes about me and my meditations.
So next time you get disconnected from the slow, Gogo inflight WiFi for the umpteenth time, take a second to actually think about whether you even need to be using the internet. Is there anyone that you really need to talk to? Do you really need to check Facebook?
The answers to those questions are almost always, obviously, a resounding ‘no’.
It’s wonderful, practical, and necessary to be connected and accessible, but it’s also important to let yourself feel the lightness of being disconnected whenever you have the opportunity to.
Let yourself celebrate your temporary solitude.