The Small Pleasures Of Air Travel

I have been traveling for work more and more frequently over the last two years. At first it was exciting. I felt like George Clooney at the beginning of Up in the Air. I was jetting across the country for business. I moved quickly between towns, did my work, and returned home. It was all very thrilling.

Then, I started to feel like George Clooney at the end of Up in the Air. The travel was a grind. Everything that initially felt so whimsical became mundane. Waking up early. Being away from friends. Sleeping in a strange bed. The shine was off the apple, as they say. I think they say that. Are apples shiny? I haven’t seen one lately. I’m on the road right now, and I haven’t been seen a lot of fresh fruit.

Lately, though, I’ve assimilated all the travel into my quotidian routine instead of treating it as an occasion. I don’t think of it as a special treat anymore, but I’ve found ways to take pleasure in even the minor inconveniences of air travel.

Taking a Taxi

The first nicety of flying is the cab to the airport. Waking up early is hard. Public transportation goes from my apartment to the nearest airport, but it adds at least an hour to my trip. A taxi is much more expensive, but it’s like buying an extra sixty or ninety minutes of sleep and then a quiet, private ride. It’s a very appealing combination. Sleep is, obviously, the best. A cab ride by myself is also kind of the best. It makes me feel like a spy. Awake in the dark. Moving wordlessly through the city. It always feels secretive and important. Whenever I rarely take taxis for any other reason, it’s usually super late at night and with a zillion people. We’re crammed against the windows, and we all just want to get home. The only pleasure in the ride is the relief that it’s not the subway. It’s very pleasant to take a cab at the beginning of the day rather than the end of the night.

Checking In

The mechanics of checking in and passing through security are also comforting. Swipe the credit card into the self check-in. No, I’m not checking a bag. What am I, some kind of amateur? Stash my watch, belt, wallet, and phone in the front pouch of my backpack. Tuck my keys somewhere that I’ll remember when I get home. Anything with a zipper gets tossed in a bin over my sneakers (always sneakers, I’d wear slippers if I could). The laptop gets its own bin. It’s special. Like a youngest child. A youngest child suspected of containing explosives. It’s a violation of privacy I’ve come to know and love in a creepy 1984 kind of way.

Overpriced Airport Breakfast

Then, oh my goodness, airport breakfast. My favorite part. Everything is wildly overpriced. This morning, I paid four dollars for sixteen ounces of orange juice. That is the usual price for sixty-fourish ounces of orange juice. And a breakfast sandwich cost probably six dollars. That is usually the price of several breakfast sandwiches. Somehow, though, since there are no other options, it feels like I’m doing something very reasonable (eating a regular breakfast) while still treating myself (by paying an inane amount of money for breakfast). This one is more of a rationalization than anything else, but it feels like a tiny bit of luxury. Let me hang onto this.


People have written lots about the benefits of “single-serving friends,” but here’s the dirty secret. I like to talk to people when I travel because the threshold for rudeness is much higher. An airplane is the only place I can carry on a full conversation with someone, forget everything they said to me within hours, fall asleep in the middle of talking, and have it be okay. For someone who is compulsively polite and obsessive about remembering minute details, that’s a relief.

Getting Away

Maybe the best part of air travel is being inaccessible to people’s demands on my time. When I’m at the airport, I can talk on the phone, text, and e-mail, but I can’t really be expected to get anything done. It’s thirty minutes or an hour of relative peace even amid the madness that is an airport terminal. Then, once I get on the plane, it’s all over. I don’t pay for the internet if it’s available. I always say I want to read more, but I only really ever get it done on airplanes and subway cars. The last novel I read took me a year, because I read eighty percent of it in the sky. I catch up on podcasts. I nap, guilt-free. What I sacrifice in legroom I reap in productivity.


I get off the plane in a different city. If I managed to sleep the whole flight, then it feels like time travel. The velocity alone is incredible. If there were airplanes in the video game Oregon Trail, you just would have gotten to Portland nine hours after you left home, founded a strip club, and called it a day. Guys, life’s so rad. TC mark

image – Shutterstock


More From Thought Catalog

  • Gregory Costa

    It’s embarrassing to admit, but I flew for the first time a year ago.  I felt like an excited little kid.  I wanted to fly in my suit as a throwback to the days when flying was a rare, thrilling activity…I decided it was best to keep it neatly pressed for the conference. 

    • Frequent flyer

      I like to dress nicely to fly.  Makes the experience feel more pleasant, less mundane.  Next time, go all out!

  • upupandaway

    I agree with every word you wrote! Life IS rad.

  • ed

    My list would have to include those first 15 minutes in your hotel room. I stay in maybe a half dozen different rooms per month and that moment of opening the door and assessing the relative quality and comfort of the layout, furnishings, lighting, room service menu, etc. is truly enjoyable. Like a tiny sociological adventure.

    • ed

      Of course this is not specific to air travel, but in my mind it’s tied in completely with the air travel experience.

  • Anonymous

     It’s special. Like a youngest child. A youngest child suspected of containing explosives.
    Best line. 

  • Henry

    I hate it when people talk to me on a plane. It’s not that I’m antisocial…  I’ve just had that same conversation a million times.

    Unless something happens during our flight and we start making jokes and/or discussing the situation, I don’t want to talk to you.

    • Damen Handle

      You’re kind of a bitch

  • Damen Handle

    I love flying out of Terminal 5 at O’Hare because seeing all the foreign airlines, and listening to all the accents and conversations is just so cool. 

    It also reminds me of traveling to India so many times when I was younger, and being obsessed with airplanes and airports.

    • Frida

      Me too me toooo! I always try to sneak peeks at people’s passports to see where they are from, when I don’t hear them talking. Or I try to guess,  beforehand.
      I was in the Houston Int. and O’Hare airports today. O’Hare is way better.

  • Jordana Bevan

    it feels nice to read something positive about traveling. these are the little things that overwhelm the annoyances of travel, and make it a positive experience with negative moments instead of a negative experience with positive moments. for me. yay Josh!

  • Becky To

    I, on the other hand quite dislike air travel in general (although your article almost made me forget about how stressful the whole experience is, so props Josh!)

    One of the few good things is looking out of the window and catching a brilliant sunrise or seeing hundreds of tiny buildings scattered here and there. The fuss with metal detectors, queues, strangers, recycled air… it’s just not for me.

  • Tory

    I live in America and go to school in England, so I make the trans-Atlantic hop six times a year (Dad’s work pays for most of the tuition and all the trips home, wooo). I’ve grown to love the peace of flying. I do everything I can not to have to work on planes: I bring a book, watch a movie or two, sleep, listen to music. I don’t want to be accessible. I don’t want to have responsibilities. It’s eight hours of pure peace, and I love it.

    Unfortunately I have to take work on the plane this time. >.< I have only myself and my laziness to blame, but it's a pain.

  • Sheela Cheong

    i love the anonymity and luxury of airport travel so much <3 gorgeous to re-live those moments through your writing

  • Na

    Why do you check in at the airport? Do you not own a printer? 

    • Joshgondelman

      I do not own a printer. Correct!

  • Frida

    I agree after spending all day in airports today.
    Sometimes I also try to remind myself at how much of a marvel it is to be flying in a metal object in the air,to try to distract myself from the fact that I have 2 tight connections to make and the airplane is running 20 minutes late.

  • Tophats

    I had a brief three year jaunt overseas a few years ago, and I traveled a lot during that time. I was in high school though, and that meant that I traveled (with my parents :0! ) during every break from school, so I couldn’t hang out with my friends. I obviously took it for granted and hated traveling (to 13 countries… I hate myself). Now I haven’t left this island in 3 years and I’ve spent the whole time wishing wishing wishing I could get on a plane to anywhere.

blog comments powered by Disqus