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Posts Tagged ‘planes’

The Vast Beast-Whistle of Space

January 23, 2015 | by

The literature of the fear of flying.

Photo: Corey Mitchell, via Flickr

Before takeoff, when the flight attendants are acting out the ways we’ll save ourselves in the event of a catastrophe, the same thought always occurs to me: it is possible not to fly. Plenty of people with enviable careers, even careers that require frequent travel, have managed it. The NFL’s John Madden travels across the country in his “Madden Cruiser,” a customized coach bus. Liz McClarnon, the British pop singer and member of the Atomic Kittens, hasn’t been on a plane in four years. Sean Bean (Game of Thrones’s Ned Stark) drives to all of his European film locations. He was finally forced onto a plane to shoot The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, though he refused the helicopter ride to top of the mountain where they were filming, forcing the rest of the cast to wait while he walked up.

Those of us with aviophobia know that flying is safe—it just doesn’t feel safe. During takeoff, the plane forces itself diagonally into the air, pinning us to our seats. We feel the strain as the engines grind, trying to lift an enormous, metal, bird-shaped machine packed with humans into the sky. Why did anyone ever think this was a good idea? The air is not our natural element; the first powered plane only stayed up for twelve seconds. At thirty thousand feet, the sounds are unnerving. The poet James Dickey wrote, “There is faintly coming in / Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space.” It’s hard to think of any sound more terrifying. Read More »

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Letter from an Airplane

December 26, 2012 | by

Liane de Pougy, Paris, 1890s.

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of your favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Dear Friends,

There are moments I suspect we are not living in the Golden Age of Travel.

I speak as someone who enjoys nearly everything, mind you, from the novelty of sipping in-flight tomato juice to the thrill of meeting the passenger in the next seat. But even I (a half-wit, apparently) found last Tuesday’s flight to Portugal less than easy going.

We cut it close; my traveling companion, Matthew, was late to meet me and the result was the sort of last-minute dash that’s both exhilarating and draining. I was allowed in an accelerated line for irresponsible travelers but found myself behind a man who not only seemed in no hurry but had to remove three pieces of heavy jewelry, one at a time, each time the metal detector went off. He did so with an infuriatingly sanguine smile. I hated and envied him. Passengers were boarding when I sprinted up, some ways ahead of Matthew. The gate, C71, and the plane were absolutely crammed with some forty assorted kids, ranging in age from about eleven to fifteen. One of their chaperones, a hearty lady in a tracksuit, explained to me they were on their way from Indiana to an international cheerleading competition three hours outside of Lisbon. When I arrived at 29A (aisle) I discovered the middle seat, intended for my traveling companion, was occupied by a tween of some thirteen years. She and her friend regarded me with terrified bravado. “If you’re sitting here,” one of them said quickly, “you should know that we have to sit together. We’re roommates.”

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