Taking a Step Back to Appreciate Flight
I witnessed a similar scene myself with the first Airbus A380 arrival into JFK in November of 2009. Ramp operations came to a complete stop at the entire airport, and the airfield rules of rampers and employees keeping to their respective terminals went unenforced, as well as the regulations pertaining to the parking of their vehicles and mini-tractors all around the monstrous new plane.
Seeing that excites me almost as much as witnessing the historic event itself. It shows that even those that would never call themselves “enthusiasts”, who work around planes all day, who work hard getting dirty day in and day out for low salaries and meager benefits, can still step back and appreciate the first arrival of a double-decker aircraft, or that widebody twin with a new sleek design.
I’d like to think that such attention and interest acts as a refreshing reminder of our species’ accomplishments in aviation. After being on this planet for half a million years, look at what we were able to accomplish in just the last 109 of them. The thought of taking to the air with the trust of safety, becoming safer than ground transportation while truly making the world smaller, is something that runs through my mind every time I’ve gone planespotting. I think that amazement of accomplishment is what fueled my passion for aviation above all as I was growing up.
I’ve been pushing that idea for years, but comedian Louis CK said it best (see video below) when referencing how much we take advantage of our ability to fly. I always discuss the challenges faced by those crossing the ocean by boat over weeks or even months at sea, where battling disease, starvation, scurvy or even enemy attack, was commonplace. Now, a century or two later we complete the journey in mere hours, with the loss of in-flight entertainment or a less-than-stellar meal making the trip a terrible ordeal to those who have so soon forgotten history class.
I used to (and still do) have this fantasy of time travel. Not of traveling to any time myself, but more so to bring someone from history to today, to witness the history we’re making now. Like George Washington. I imagine how I’d have to sit him down in an empty room and prepare him for what he was about to see as we ventured into this new world. Aside from electricity, TV, photography, the internet and Dancing With The Stars, how will he possibly believe me when I tell him we went to the moon and back? How will I explain those giant metal monsters that weigh a half million pounds are in the skies above us, insisting that they are at the altitude of 6 miles up, safely carrying hundreds of people around the world?
Maybe I should just blindfold him and walk him onto an airliner. Fit him into some adult diapers so he doesn’t soil himself as I remove the blindfold and tell him we’re about to go to London, and that we don’t have any food on board, and we don’t need it!
I’d like to think that once the shock wore off, he would sit still in wonderment looking out the window. High above the ground, tears streaming down his face, knowing that regardless of whatever social problems may be plaguing modern American society, that we as a nation and as a human race have done so much with free civilization that people like himself began just over two centuries ago.
I still love to spend time on flights over the North Atlantic with those thoughts in mind, looking down and imagining the jealousy from the ghosts of our past looking up as we pass them at 600 knots while they float along at the mercy of the wind in their sails while I sit comfortably in a chair in the sky. I wish the flight attendant would get here with my next Heineken already. This flight blows.
(Editors note: This feature was originally published on March 20, 2012.)
Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has a background in online advertising and airline experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @PhilDernerJr.