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Sonn: The miracle of flight

BY BARRETT SONN | JULY 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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In light of the recent Asiana Airlines accident in San Francisco, I thought I’d take the time to remind everybody of something (and no, it’s not the cliché about air travel being safer than automobile travel). I’d like to remind you of the magic of flying.

Yes, accidents happen, whether through mechanical error or human error, and they’re too often tragic.

Such tragedies often lead people to re-evaluate man’s relationship with flight or at least reinforce some deeply held phobias. But for all the high-profile accidents and the much-maligned penny-pinching airlines, flying remains humankind’s crowning achievement.

When you look at airplanes, you have to remember what they have done for us as a species. They elevate human beings as conquerors of gravity. Before the first airplane, pretty much every single human being was incapable of flying, even R. Kelly.

The act of flying has been a source of fascination since the dawn of modern thought, whether it’s the Greek myth of Icarus or Leonardo da Vinci’s intricate concepts of flying contraptions. Once we humans finally developed an ability to fly that didn’t involve a one-way ticket off a roof, we all collectively turned into the stuff of legend. We finally had wings, and even though we didn’t get to actually flap them in the way a bird might, we were still able to glide through the air with relative ease.

Now I know it can be tough to see the magic in flying these days. Beefed-up security in the form of pat-downs and body scans — as well as the recent trend toward fewer, fuller flights — have made everything from getting to the gate to leaving your destination’s airport take longer and longer as the years have gone by. Those things can grate on people.

The last time I took a plane (from Las Vegas to Chicago) both McCarran International Airport and O’Hare were filled to the brim with grumpy, disheveled people waiting in lines and paying through the nose at every turn. They shuffled from Hudson News kiosk to Hudson News kiosk eating Cinnabons and looking dejected, desensitized to the miraculous spirit of flight.

Meanwhile, I was excited. And I would argue being excited about flying, no matter how many times you’ve done it, is the proper flying emotion. Being frustrated and angry in an airport is unseemly.

See, we take flying for granted. We don’t realize how things like delays are drops in the ocean when you consider the total time that still gets saved. Can you imagine having to take a boat across the Pacific Ocean? Crazy, I tell you.

Our attitude toward airplanes is the attitude people have towards spaceships in “Star Trek” — casual indifference. They are acknowledged as being objects that exist without realizing the implications of what would happen (or what couldn’t happen) if they never existed to begin with.

We complain about negligible issues such as temporarily bad cell-phone reception, a classic First World thing to do. We complain about fees for extra bags and being groped by the TSA. We complain about being crammed into a tiny seat next to an odious woman and her equally odious baby. We complain about having to watch B-team sitcoms such as “Rules of Engagement.”

And when tragedies happen, we worry, and our palms get sweaty. Sometimes, we take pills to forget that we’re on an airplane altogether.

Through all of this, we ignore the most basic truth about flying: Every time we take to the sky, we take part in the greatest technological innovation in the history of mankind. That’s undeniably awesome.


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