Always pick the window seat
Picture me, sitting in the middle seat on a United flight from New York City to Los Angeles. It’s a day flight, without a single cloud on the horizon. Our Boeing 747 is effortlessly gliding through the air at 20,000 feet over the barren, desert landscapes of New Mexico and Arizona. In my under-spaced economy seat, I am contorting myself in an attempt to enjoy the scenic spectacle playing outside the window without bothering my neighbor, the occupant of the window seat. A short, scruffy looking man with a baseball cap, staring into a bottomless tablet.
After a slight turn of the plane, light from the sun starts reflecting from the fuselage through the window and onto the screen of this man’s iPad, obscuring his view and hindering his ability to play his video game. The man, clearly annoyed at having his technological opium obstructed, violently shuts his window, depriving me of the view, and snapping me out of a particularly enjoyable reverie.
All I see now is a beige window shade and a mucky iPad held by an even muckier man. I look at him in utter bewilderment. Is he blind to his present circumstance? This line of thought leads to a profound realization. We must not know what flying actually is, or what it entails. We consider it an annoying means to an end. Every second of flight is spent waiting for landing, eagerly anticipating and wishing for a quick end to our time in the clouds.
My neighbor, hypnotized by his light box, was actually bothered by his view. Here he was, sitting in a chair thousands of feet in the air, inside a technological marvel that would’ve seemed unimaginable to most humans of the past. Part of the first generations gifted with cheap, safe, and reliable flight, and not even thinking about the miracle he was an active participant in.
For thousands of years, our ancestors witnessed birds and insects lift off the ground and reach the heavens without us, left behind in our biological prisons, condemned to the dirt. And here he was, actively wishing he was back in it.
Think of the awe an individual from the 17th century would feel if we took him on a joyride in a 747 — bigger than most buildings back then, but capable of flight. Imagine how many times he might look up at the sky and think, “What does it look like from up there?”, or just how often he might have wished to levitate and escape his earthly predicaments. It would be his first time being able to see hundreds of miles at a glance, his first time touching a cloud and reaching a speed faster than a gallop.
This was humanity’s unalterable condition from our arrival on this planet roughly 200,000 years ago, to just about one hundred years ago, until the Wright brothers in 1905. Think about that for a minute — for 99.9 percent of our history, flight was an unattainable dream. It was the stuff of gods and prophecy. And today, barely 100 years after flight was invented, and 50 years where it's been reliably safe, some idiot is annoyed by sunlight on his iPad and eagerly opts for a video game over a sight which would’ve made most past humans faint.
Yes, traveling can be a pain. The traffic on the way to the airport, the endless security lines, the baggage fees and the crying babies — I get that. But in retrospect, how little a price it actually is when faced with the immensity that is reliable flight. New York to Los Angeles used to take months, with a pretty high chance of injury or death on the way there. Before I was denied the view by my nonchalant neighbor, I imagined the trouble it must have been to carry out, let alone survive, such an adventure. Today, my biggest worry is picking out a good movie in the mere five hours between breakfast in the Meatpacking District and dinner in Malibu.
So, please, next time you board one of these overlooked and underappreciated machines, when you put your bag in the overhead bin and sit down on your magical flying chair, after complaining about the length of the flight or the quality of the food, just think about how good we have it, and how often we take it for granted.