Up in the air

A Malaysia Airlines plane making its way on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. - AFP

It’s such a strange covenant, the one into which we enter when we board a plane. We sit down, buckle up, and blithely ignore the safety instructions, secure in the knowledge that we are about to be teleported thousands of kilometres away. Planes are to transport what dentistry is to medicine – there’s something mildly terrifying about the whole process, even when it works precisely as it is supposed to.

If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then the ease with which we accept that technology is indistinguishable from faith. I haven’t the foggiest idea how a jet engine works. Getting on a plane is the closest I will ever come to the certainty of religion. And yet I’ve done it, time and time again, just as you have. Just as we will continue to do.

This isn’t a screed against air travel. Far from it; the world is a little smaller than it used to be, and that is mostly a good thing. Statistically, flying is still the safest way to travel. It’s safer than walking. Maybe this is why we react the way we do when things go wrong up in the air; maybe it’s the sheer rarity of these incidents that make us huddle together, in person or online, and extend the most genuine of sympathies to strangers.

The pervasive spookiness of a disappearance doesn’t help, either. A crash is horrific, but it’s something to mourn. It’s a full stop, instead of a sentence that trails off while the world searches for a way to end it.

Those of us that have flown budget airlines have seen planes up close; trudging across the tarmac in the direction of a grounded bird brings with it a sort of bemused wonder. How can so many tonnes of metal and plastic and ceramics stay aloft? How can so many tonnes of metal and plastic and ceramics just vanish? How many times can I fly before I fly too close to the sun?

Now we search for truth, and turn up rumour and innuendo. We seek to apportion blame and responsibility in equal part. It is alternately fascinating and frustrating to watch the media in real time, clamouring to report the absence of information. It’s tempting to believe someone is keeping secrets from us; this is infinitely more reassuring than accepting that no one yet knows what happened, that we are all of us lost.

Surely we are being told the truth, surely this time there is not incompetence heaped atop injustice. We hope, but hope is a cruel and persistent flirt, and healing comes slow to those starved of answers.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.
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flying , MH370 , travel safety , air travel


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