Being a clergyman for most of my life, jetsetting has never been an option. Holiday destinations were reached by car ferry and spent on French camp sites; flying was beyond the budget and would not have allowed a return journey loaded with wine bottles. There were odd moments when flying was possible, mostly to Heathrow, but the trips were without romance or excitement
It was the odd combination of the advent of Ryanair and trips to the developing world that gave flying a sense of edge. Most flights made in earlier years involved walking from the terminal to the aircraft via an airbridge, the suspended tunnel that allows moving from a seat looking out through the vast glass windows of the airport buildings to a seat looking through the tiny windows of an airliner cabin without any encounter with the elements: it was a move from one room to another, almost as though there was a conscious desire to reassure people, to suggest that this was just another sitting space.
Airbridges are not compatible with low fares, and are not simply not available in some developing country airports; their absence endows flying with a sense of physicality that it was previously lacking. Stepping off the Ryanair flight from Dublin to Bristol yesterday morning, the greyness of an Irish autumn morning had been replaced by a wind driven Somerset drizzle; embarking and disembarking were experienced through touch as well as sight and sound. Next week, stepping off a Kenya Airways flight at Bujumbura will bring a confrontation with the tropical heat of Burundi; embarking at Kigali the following week to begin the journey back will be as pleasant as walking on a warm Irish summer’s day.
The moments between walking out through the terminal door and beginning to climb the aircraft step still bring a surge of adrenalin, as though the journey were part of some high drama or the departure was some emotional occasion. Perhaps it was growing up on songs like ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’; perhaps it was about childhood memories of family from Canada arriving for rare visits; perhaps it is about realizing the flesh and blood nature of leaving the safety of a secure, modern building to place your life in the hands of strangers hidden behind a locked door, strangers never encountered except through discarnate voices declaring airspeeds, altitudes and journey times.
There are moments when it is tempting to ask if others ever have such thoughts, but to do so would probably invite a dismissive response and would break the sense that something magical was happening.