Thoughts of travel usually revolve around the experiences to be had in the destination, but not in the journey itself. On a recent flight to Melbourne I was reminded of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, which succinctly highlights the contradictions we experience between our fantasies and reality of travel: In anticipation, there had simply been a vacuum between the airport and the hotel. Nothing had existed in my mind between the last line of the itinerary and the hotel room.
Speaking specifically about the experience of flight, de Botton continues: The clouds usher in tranquility. Below us are enemies and colleagues, the sites of our terrors and our griefs, all of them now infinitesimal, scratches on the earth. We may know this old lesson in perspective well enough, but rarely does it seem as true as when we are pressed against the cold plane window, our craft a teacher of profound philosophy.
The sonic experiences of flight seem at odds with this tranquility. At 35,000 feet our brains are numbed by the monotonous hum of the engines and the constant drone of the air-conditioning unit. These sounds are punctuated by the predictable occurrence of babies crying and the PA-system telling us to fasten our seat-belts. We arrive at our destination slightly tranquillised, the sounds of the arrival point slowly re-igniting our enthusiasm towards the trip.