A world without planes?

It’s not a likely scenario, but it is one that provides food for thought of our dependance on these hydrocarbon-burning aluminum tubes that we pack ourselves into like sardines to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, placing our faith in well-maintained aircraft, pilot training, physics, and luck.

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland a few weeks ago shut down many airports throughout Europe for several days, stranding passengers in various locations, waiting for the ash clouds to dissipate. While most airlines resumed flights a few days later, the volcano is still active, and just yesterday caused the shutting down of 14 airports in Scotland and Ireland.

Alain de Botton, the philosopher, writer and recent writer-in-residence at Heathrow airport took a moment to imagine a world without aircraft;

..children would gather at the feet of old men, and hear extraordinary tales of a mythic time when vast and complicated machines the size of several houses used to take to the skies and fly high over the Himalayas and the Tasman Sea.
Those who had known the age of planes would recall the confusion they had felt upon arriving in Mumbai or Rio, Auckland or Montego Bay, only hours after leaving home, their slight sickness and bewilderment lending credence to the old Arabic saying that the soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel.

Jet lag isn’t just the physical malady of a skewed circadian rhythm, but it always takes some time for our mental and emotional selves to sync up with not only the local time zone, but the typical pace of life which can often be much slower than in more westernized countries. Alain continues on to say that being forced to travel at a slower pace would allow us to reclaim some of the wisdom that can only be gained by a long, slow journey, which our ancestors had once known very well. He points out that “we often need something very large and time-consuming, like the experience of a month long journey across an ocean or a hike over a mountain range, to establish a sufficient sense of distance.

The next time you’re planning a long trip, consider substituting some of the legs you might otherwise fly with a boat, train, or bus. Take note of how a slower mode of travel affects you. Does the destination seem that much sweeter? Does your body arrive at the same time as your soul?

Posted by | Comments (7)  | May 6, 2010
Category: Air Travel, Travel Quote of the Day

7 Responses to “A world without planes?”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Great article! If you have the time to travel, why not travel at a slower pace? If we’re not careful, air travel could become extinct if an alternative fuel source isn’t discovered and used. We’ve become too dependent on oil. Perhaps the price we’ll pay is to travel at a slower pace which isn’t a bad idea.

  2. brian Says:

    Many of the peak oil bugs list air travel as an unsustainable relic of our cheap oil past. Although many peak oil bugs state that alternative fuels and energy sources are ill-suited for air travel, James Howard Kunstler takes it further and states that air travel will all but disappear and this cannot be changed. (Note: he was also a Y2K soothsayer, so let’s hope he’s wrong here as well). Even Christopher Steiner’s book “$20 a Gallon Gasoline…” predicts that while air travel will be available, it will be the luxury of the very rich for trans-oceanic flights, and even flying from New York to Florida will be a once-in-several years event costing $800 to $1000 round trip. I can get that flight for $200 as of this morning. for most people and most of the time, travel outside a physically connected geographic area or accessible by a short boat ride simply won’t exist. High speed trains can pick up some of the slack, but people in North America will be stuck on our side of the pond. The question should not be about learning to travel slowly, but can one travel at all? My questions are more sociological; sans the cheap flights that whisk tourists all over the globe, what will happen to tourist dependent economies? Moreover, the free exchange of people and ideas made possible by cheap travel will also wither, so what will happen to human culture?

  3. Roger Says:

    It’s very disheartening to think about what may become of travel. I can’t imagine that one day vacation time will increase so that we can take the time to travel slowly.

  4. Natalia Says:

    Brilliant article and an issue that most people just are not thinking about enough. I haven written about this myself, and while I myself take a long-haul flight every three years or so (moving to the other side of the world, living in the UK with family in Australia) but I have undertaken to eschew air travel in between. If that means I don’t have the time to take a holiday in Japan this year, that means I don’t take that holiday. It may be heresy to say this on a travel blog, but jetting around the world is not a human right, and we need to think about the additional costs of our choices – to our environment, to people in developing countries, and ultimately to ourselves if it drives up prices in many different parts of society.

  5. Lauren Says:

    I like those thoughts and I welcome that possible future. As odd as it would be. As of this morning, I am fresh off a 15 day Transatlantic cruise from Miami to England. It was a wonderful experience to “lose” just 1 hour a day over a period of weeks. Most people on the ship were worried about getting flights home, whereas I felt free from that stressful world. I still fly when there is no alternative, but I’m pretty attached to slow travel now. It’s a luxury of time that I can afford as an Internet Entrepreneur.

    Even though I adored the pace of flying about a decade ago, I find that at the ripe old age of 30 my body really appreciates the slow pace of land and sea travel. It probably always has, but I’m just slowing down to notice it 😉 Plus the airport experience has become a nightmare.

    A couple years back I took a train and did a rideshare to do a roundtrip across the USA, and it was equally nice. More time to observe, interact, and savor all the newness. Here’s to expanded, greener options for slow travel!

  6. Andrew Says:

    cheap air travel will end, well for most of us.When it started air travel was for the very rich,soon that will return.

    Whilst the planes were grounded coming into London,the residents of Richmond which is to the west of London and on the flight path to Heathrow said how wonderful it was not to hear the roar of jets.

    Well those days will return soon.The planet will be a better place.Now walk or take the train.

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