Monday, August 18, 2008

Whatever Happened to Hypersonic Air Travel?

Well, I'm finally back in Canada after three months overseas. It took me no time at all to adjust to the new time zone, mostly because I employed the long-lost art of "not sleeping for 30 hours straight". The problem is that, with not sleeping for 30 hours straight, I had to endure 30 hours of mindless tedium, be it in airport terminals or in the airplane itself. Your mind starts to slip and you begin to notice the tiniest of details...

Modern air travel is the ultimate form of sensory deprivation. There you are, sitting in your cramped airplane seat, headphones on, staring at the screen in front of you watching some images dance around while your jaw hangs slack, breathing in artificially compressed air, all while blissfully unaware that you are in fact in a zillion ton plane flying a zillion miles above the ground at a zillion miles an hour.

Then, when turbulence kicks in and your plastic window makes creaking and cracking noises, you are suddenly reminded that the only thing stopping you from drowning in the ocean or your head from exploding is a tiny little oxygen mask and a shitty little flotation device made in India at below cut-rate. Assuming of course, that you actually survive the zillion-degree-below-zero temperatures and the zillion-mile fall.

By the time you stop being amused by your own mortality, you begin to wish that something interesting could happen because you hate having to go through the dilemma of either putting on the headphones to watch Fool's Gold or Eragon, or taking them off and listening to the baby two rows in front of you cry and scream loudly. This continues for several hours, and you begin wonder why the child sounds like it is trying to self-extricate its tonsils. Is it because of the noise of the airplane? Perhaps the turbulence? Maybe the mother is so enraptured by Matthew McConaughey's naked torso that she has forgotten that her child exists?

Nope, it's probably the food from earlier. It's common knowledge by now that airplane food is bad, but my flight was really something special. Somehow, they managed to give me an omelette breakfast where the sausage was pale white and had some disturbing blue-green veins in it, and the eggs had the same consistency as Jello and tasted like a mix of sweaty rags and drywall. You want to wash it down with drinks, but unfortunately the airline company does not realize that a thimble of water isn't even enough to quench the thirst of an amoeba, let alone a normal human being.

A few hours into the flight, you feel like you should find an exit. You're not claustrophobic, but you're starting to feel it. Looking around doesn't help, and getting up and going to the washroom doesn't help with the claustrophobia either. The plane doesn't have a plug for your laptop, so you're stuck listening to the onboard radio, which has a) shitty Eurotrash dance music, b) shitty French-Canadian folk music, or c) Madonna, telling you to "give it to her", whatever it may be.

Already, you feel your sanity slipping when you happily remind yourself that it's been a while since the plane took off. You then glance at your watch and realize with a plunging dread that it's been three hours and you're only a quarter of the way to the next transfer location.

Just before landing, you are jolted out of your catatonic state by a video describing how to navigate the upcoming airport terminal. This usually isn't a good thing. When there is a video teaching the passengers how to follow signs, a skill we all first learned sometime back in elementary school between nap time and recess, it probably means the airport terminal is hopelessly complicated and that the only realistic way that we can find our way out is with a torch and a spool of yarn.

Of course, by the time you land and get off the plane, you realize that the video was full of complete lies because it is unsurprisingly outdated, and by following the new, even more unintelligible signs, you actually wind up on the next flight to Qatar.

Thankfully, you get on the right plane before the gates close, and lo and behold, it actually has an outlet plug, so you can get some proper work done (i.e. watch more movies and play games). This, however, takes so much of your energy that you wind up falling asleep with half an hour to go. When you wake up, however, it's been an hour and a half and the plane still hasn't landed. You entertain yourself with the fact that maybe the entire crew was waiting for you to wake up so they could land because you're so, so special.

However, the real reason becomes clear over the PA as the pilot announces that the plane, which can tolerate the cold of the zillion-mile altitudes and the friction from the zillion-mile-an-hour speeds, can't land just yet because the runway is "mildly moist." Thus, he must make the plane circle around and around while burning up fuel and making the entire planet a bit more toasty for our polar bear and penguin friends.

Then you arrive, pick up your belongings, go home, unpack, and realize that someone went into your luggage and stole your toothpaste, out of all things.

Goddamn it.

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