It seemed as unfair to evaluate an airline according to its profit-and-loss statement as to judge a poet by her royalty statements. The stock market could never put an accurate price on the thousands of moments of beauty and interest that occurred around the world every day under an airline’s banner: it could not describe the sight of Nova Scotia from the air, it had no room in its optics for the camaraderie enjoyed by employees in the Hong Kong ticket office, it had no means of quantifying the adrenalin-thrill of take-off. The logic of my argument was not lost on Mr Walsh, who had himself once been a pilot. As we talked, he expressed his admiration for the way planes, vast and complicated machines, could defy their size and the challenges of the atmosphere to soar into the sky. We remarked on the surprise we both felt on seeing a 747 at a gate, dwarfing luggage carts and mechanics, at the idea that such a leviathan could move – a few metres’ distance, let alone across the Himalayas. We reflected on the pleasure of seeing a 777 take off for New York and, over the Staines reservoir, retract its flaps and wheels, which it would not require again until its descent over the white clapboard houses of Long Beach, some 5,000 kilometres and six hours of sea and cloud away. We exclaimed over the beauty of a crowded airfield, where, through the heat haze of turbofans, the interested observer can make out sequences of planes waiting to begin their journeys, their fins a confusion of colours against the grey horizon, like sails at a regatta.

Alain de Botton - A Week At The Airport

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