Shreya Sen-Handley | Jetsetting glitzy no more, try the \'flycott\'
“Come Flu With Me” Frank Sinatra would’ve sung had he been living in our Covid present, replacing the soaring melody of his famous “Come Fly With Me” with a sickly reel and a death jig instead.
Contagion spreads quickly in the confined spaces of passenger planes, and in the early days of Covid, before travel restrictions were put in place, not only did air travel spread the disease from passenger to passenger within each jet’s metal shell, but disgorging these very people around the world, they helped make it the rampaging global pandemic it became.
But the unhindered transmission of infections is far from the only problem with present-day air voyages. That airplanes are going from bad to worse was reinforced by the horrors of my recent flight from Kolkata to Dubai, aboard an airborne nightmare called Fly Dubiously (a small spin on their real name to avoid legal hassles, thankee). Having booked the flight in good faith, misled into believing it was a wing of Emirates, I found myself in a flying rat trap instead.
Aloft that bat out of hell, with its rickety, torn seats, and not-fit-for-human-consumption fodder, worse than any I’ve ever had on land or air, I suffered a seizure. No one even noticed, though I demonstrated every symptom of being seriously unwell, blacking out and re-emerging from my stupor, temporarily unable to speak or to co-ordinate my feet. All I got from the faux spiritualists of unknown European origins in the seats beside me were blank stares, whilst the Middle Eastern staff was barely in evidence through the six-hour voyage.
Perhaps they were as overpowered as I by the evil odour emanating from the plane’s toilets, and had ceased to notice anything else?
Nor am I alone in my recent experience of airborne distress, with the news of not one, but several, instances of urination on fellow passengers splashed across media.
Far from the glamorous mode of transportation it once was, not even catering for basic human needs these days, air travel is now officially hell.
Yet flights were once a modern miracle, a scientific marvel, and amongst the most romantic and adventurous of journeys. That man could fly would have been considered impossible not so long ago — had Icarus lived, he would have strenuously dissuaded us from ever attempting it. In the early years of aviation, it would have taken courage to fly a plane, even to be a passenger on such an unlikely contraption would have required some gumption. With time, and millions embarking on these aeronautical trips, it was no longer a thing of wonder that called for audacity.
But it remained a feat of engineering that inspired the explorer in us all. Taking us to wondrous new worlds we wouldn’t previously have dreamt of reaching, aviation drastically expanded our horizons, both literal and figurative. As an enthusiastic traveller and veteran travel writer, whose aerial memories provide colourful fodder for many a travel column and book chapter, I can scarcely imagine life without flying.
Yet, recent experiences, and not just this last flight of torment, along with the reality of a changing, ailing planet that’s crying out for us to cut back on pollution-generating conveniences, have compelled me to re-examine how I traverse the miles.
Who can argue that a reduction in air travel wouldn’t be a decisive step towards saving our planet, a positive strike against environmental degradation, and a boon to us all in the long term, especially the next generations? Scientific evidence( e.g. in lockdown when passenger planes were grounded) and the testimony of our own eyes prove it’s indubitably needed. But it does feel difficult to put into practice, doesn’t it?
After all, this earth isn’t the place it was before planes took off. Economic, political, and societal pressures have pushed entire communities into migrating from the land that bore them, and families have dispersed to far-flung locales. For instance, there are 1.5 million Indians living in the UK today.
With my children and husband in Britain, and parents in India, I have little option but to make long-haul journeys a couple of times a year. Only the very occasional vacation requires flights in our case, but I can’t claim we don’t sometimes succumb to their enticements (beautiful though the British landscape, who can restrict themselves to only holidays in the rain?)
What would be the alternative to flying in these instances? Land travel? We do plenty of that, but it depends on how far one has to trek. Ships? Don’t they cause their fair share of pollution? Plus, who has the time or money for long, stately cruises? Shall we turn the clock back and go ballooning? Or cycle through Europe like my grandfather did? Those generations were made of sterner stuff than thee or me!
If, then, living in the modern world is inconceivable without flying, moderation has to be the key to persisting with it. Jet-setting is certainly no longer glitzy — carriers have seen to that, with the horrors of their service! In fact, should jumping aboard a sky-fouling jumbo jet be seen as de rigueur any more, or even conscionable? Doesn’t our world have a plethora of terrific scientists, and turgid billionaires looking for ambitious projects at which to throw their money? Together, they could create fabulous alternatives to aviation that we haven’t yet imagined (but maybe Da Vinci did)!
If only we flu on these airloons less, zipping by on nippy stand-ins more often, our world could remain both wide and in good health.