Essay: My Fascination with Flying

Flying, in my opinion, is truly one of the most fascinating experiences. There hasn’t been a single flight, dating back to my first trip on an airplane when I was in the 4th grade, to my countless work trips, that I didn’t get a childish excitement at takeoff. Despite spending my entire career in the aerospace industry, making components that currently fly in commercial and military planes, the physical act of flying still amazes me. But why? Why, after all these years, has this joy not faded?

Commercial flight is the closest that humans will ever get to teleportation. What I mean by that, is we all get onboard an enclosed metal cylinder, go to sleep or throw on some kind of movie (or four), and poof, you arrive at your destination! And this is really why I love to fly. Life is busy, and hectic. To be quite frank, if you are relaxing during a normal day, it simply means you’re not doing something that needs to be done. And that is a hard pill to swallow. But when I fly, I can’t do anything but enjoy my free time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy my unadulterated free time!

Not only do we “magically” arrive at our destination in only a handful of hours that would’ve taken our ancestors days, weeks, or even their whole lives to reach. But it’s also one of the last bastions of trust in our society. The dangers of flying are real, and ever prescient. Yet, we trust a person (the pilot) and their crew to not only get us there on time, but also with our lives and our safety. In today’s age, we barely trust an Uber driver if they don’t have 5 stars, let alone our own doctors without a second opinion. Yet, as soon as we step on that plane, never ever meeting or seeing the pilot, we sit down in our seats with full confidence that we will arrive at our destination, albeit, maybe more tired than when we took off, but otherwise safe and sound. And that is such a rarity today, and also a true hat-tip to the airline industry and their record of success.

In a bit of insider knowledge, the part that fascinates me almost as much as my “time travel” ramblings, is how intricate the airline industry is. Though I don’t work much in the commercial air industry, the business portion of the industry is amazingly complex. The requirements for every part of the airplane, from the jet engine, down to the lavatory onboard are stricter than you could ever imagine. The rigorous design effort that goes into a new product that requires so many eyes and regulatory approvals prior to even more strict testing takes years to complete. Following successful testing, products moved into production, and eventually assembled into the aircraft. Once all the sub-components are installed, then that aircraft needs to go through extremely detailed, rigorous testing of its own in order to get approvals to fly, let alone carry passengers. So just in comparison, most products can be thought of, manufactured, and enter the market in as little as under a year. A new plane can take a decade or more to go from conceptual design to first flight and during that time, have thousands of eyes reviewing the product for safety (with the obvious exception to some known violators that circumvented these checks and balances). All of this to say, the airline industry has safety (and a whole lot of cool design) built into its blood.

Another fascinating part about flying, and very relevant to some of my last trips, is how we can sit next to a complete stranger for 4, 8, or even 12 hours of a flight and not say a single thing to them, other than excuse me I need to go to the bathroom. I get it, flying is still public transportation, and most of us do not speak to fellow travelers on a train or a bus. But no other version of public transportation is stuck in a metal cylinder, 20,000 feet in the air, for that many hours at a time. Yet, from my flight to San Francisco to Tokyo in 2022, the plane was pretty much silent throughout the duration. Ain’t that strange? Sure, sometimes I’ll chat up the other passenger next to me when I’m on a midweek flight for work out of boredom, but even then, it’s a rare occurrence.

Most of this was written while on a trans-pacific flight from Los Angeles to a small island in the Pacific Ocean called Tahiti. At no point during this flight was I ever concerned that for thousands of miles in all directions was the big blue ocean, nor was I concerned we would not make it to our destination. Which is how I was able to enjoy a few movies, sleep soundly (albeit uncomfortable in economy class), and graciously enjoy the in-service meals that come with an international flight. In my sign off, for the miracle that started with the Wright Brothers first flight in North Carolina, to be able to fly halfway around the world with hundreds of other passengers in just a relatively short time, flying truly is amazing, especially when it’s to travel and see new places in the world. But if I had one request from the industry… please go back to pre-pandemic flight prices.

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