Despite uncomfortable seats, annoying people, crowded airports, security hassles, lost luggage and terrible customer service, air travel is something I look forward to these days. For a few glorious hours every couple of weeks, I am in a place where not a single person can get a hold of me.
There is something inherently wrong in the world when the boundaries between professional and personal time are so blurred that booking a flight is the only means of escape, but I will take what I can get. Life in our super-connected always on-call world is not likely to change unless we all change our attitudes. Without a complete shift in the work/life ethic in the United States, the airplane might remain our last oasis from the office. This refuge is threatened as the FAA and airlines deliberate on whether to allow cell phone usage in flight. While experts are citing the safety concerns of cell phones usage, I argue there is more than issues on safety that should keep airplanes phone free. With airplanes as the last safe haven on earth from cell phone overload, airlines are performing a public service of sorts, giving individuals the opportunity to shut off rather than fielding incoming questions, participating in conference calls or listening to a seatmate talk about their latest crisis.
Disconnecting from the phone in flight is also important for connecting with people outside the usual comfort zone. Somehow the smaller the globe becomes, the less people interact with each other. We are more likely to chat with a person across the world on the internet than actually reach out and touch someone right next to you. Air travel offers a unique opportunity to meet a cross section of humanity outside your everyday circle and network with new people. This practice would be threatened if everyone was engaged in conversations with those on the ground.
Flying one million or so miles has allowed me to meet some of the most fascinating people; philanthropists, artists, novelists, engineers, politicians, musicians, motivational speakers, pilots, preachers, patients, doctors, soldiers, actors, executives and students to name a few. Although the “relationships” were solely based on sharing a row and feigning boredom, each one of these people opened up a world previously unknown, engaged in thoughtful conversation and made the time fly by. It is easy to go everyday and surround yourself with only people who share your opinions, understand your career, know your friends and accept your beliefs, unless you are on an airplane. No other place forces you to turn-off your normal world and potentially open a new one quite like a commercial flight.