They’re funny, the ways that our longings manifest. Our intensities and fragilities find expression in baseless but profoundly affecting actions. Anywhere between six and nine months into this pandemic, depending on where you are and when it began to have an effect on your life, and with no end in sight, some of these longings are finding collective fruition. There is, for example, the collective denial of people who claim they’re safe in the cafés they’re hanging out in, maskless and closely-seated as seen on their IGstories. But the most ludicrous collectively expressed longing has to be the flights to nowhere. Some airline companies around the world have begun operating special journeys for passengers who just miss the experience of flying. The flights take off and land at the same airport, performing a joyride in the clouds for hours while passengers… well, they do what we all used to do on planes, I guess.
I personally can’t imagine taking a flight for fun. Those tiny, weird toilets (can you imagine the queues in those narrow aisles to wash one’s hands each time another stale packet of peanuts is opened?). The monotony, interrupted only by bumpiness. Throw in having to wear protective accessories, additional check-in procedures and oh yes the expense of going absolutely nowhere – and the question arises: who does this for fun?
A lot of people, evidently. Qantas Airways sold out its first flight to nowhere within ten minutes of opening bookings. Starlux, a Taiwanese airline, also notched similar sales times. Ever mindful of the suffering of millions of their fellow citizens, to whom they brought this international illness, some Indians with large disposable incomes to spare are reportedly looking forward to when they can do the same. Fly away – if not from their problems, then at least everyone else’s.
I’m sorry to be so harsh. No one is really doing well right now. We all need succour. But there’s finding solace, and there’s outright selfishness. The excuse that taking flights to nowhere keeps the airline industry’s unemployment lower has to held up against the larger context of the carbon footprint of flying (which isn’t going to be significantly reduced by the vegan menu an opportunistic organisation wants Singapore Airlines to adopt on its own same-destination routes). Moreover, how does knowing that travel is always a luxury, and is often denied as a right to those who need it, not sour the entire idea?
Our situation today is the result of something collective, too: hubris. As the Norwegian translator Johanne Fronth-Nygren said in an interview in July, about a decision made before the pandemic, “It is the privileged middle class speaking, we who will always have “good reasons” to fly, our relations and our work being so important that their value somehow cancels out the destruction we inflict on our and everybody else’s environment as we maintain them at the level we have become accustomed to. There’s an arrogance, an injustice and a stupidity in this that I couldn’t perpetuate. Of course flying is just the tip of the iceberg of global inequality, but I think it’s a good place to start making changes…”
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on September 24th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.