Wednesday, December 23, 2009
As the year draws to a close, I’m once again in the air. There’s something beautiful about a window seat on an evening flight, the lights laid out beneath you like a map in gold and silver. When I travel so much its easy to forget the little things that made me drawn to flying in the first place. Day to day its all too easy to get distracted by worries over the weather, or the person in the security line in front of you who wants to place each individual item they are carrying in a separate bin to send through the x-ray. Air travel is one of those things where if you’re all about the destination you’re likely to miss out on the pleasure to be had along the way.
Right now I’m embarking on a landmark flight. Its flight 471 and I’m on my way to my childhood home north of Seattle, a relatively short flight from LAX. When this plane flies over Albany, Oregon I will have flown my 100,000th qualifying mile this year on American Airlines. After all the time on American’s silver jets this year, I find it somewhat ironic that my milestone will be reached while on an Alaska Airlines flight, but that’s life’s little sense of humor for you.
Fittingly, this month the movie “Up in the Air” debuted. In it the main character travels more than 11 months out of the year, and is eagerly reaching his 10 millionth mile on none other than American Airlines. His tipping mile, unlike mine, will be over Dubuque, Iowa. In the movie, this seeming king of frequent fliers is allegedly only the 7th person to have flown 10 million miles with the airline. However, the “American Way” in-flight magazine assures me that there are many more than this in reality. In the interest of maintaining a sense of exclusivity American’s not saying how many there are or what the benefits of achieving such a goal might be, though they make it clear that there are many.
I have no delusions of reaching such a lofty travel milestone, in fact I’m astounded that I’m reaching 100,000 this year. I’ve never done it before, and doubt if I’ll do it again. Still, I can relate to the movie. This ultimate travel maven is followed as he embarks on his nearly continual itinerary, complete with preoccupations with rental car upgrades, hotel frequent guest programs, and a variety of “single serving” friends, doing it all in the name of reaching this long awaited travel goal. (For a detailed explanation of my personal connection to the plot of this movie, please read the posts below).
Besides all the miles (and dollars) I’ve spent on planes this year, there’s something that holds intrigue for me about little worlds wherever you find them. I always love to be an interloper whether its learning about the passions of obsessive frequent fliers, dedicated sci-fi fans, or even storm chasers. For an excellent and eye opening, and well researched, look into these seemingly insular groups that compose our modern society check out Shirley Cadron’s book “Who are You People?” This light read is billed as a look at “fanatical passion in America,” and is well worth the time.
Though Cadron doesn't choose to discuss frequent fliers in her book per se, the analogy is a good one. People who travel consistently for work, or just to maintain their lives, have plenty in common, both in experience and knowledge. As demonstrated by the many I've met along the way, they also have a wealth of stories and advice, and are more than happy to share both. The skies and the airports are something they have gotten to know innately, and most of them are proud of it. Like any specialty, its knowledge that’s not easily attained and they’re well aware of the fact. Tonight I feel like I’ve really joined them. As I take a moment to stare quietly out the window at the scattered points of light and dark voids underneath us I smile and hope that somewhere down there is Albany and my 100,000th mile is passing, fittingly, on my way home for the last time this decade.
Cheers, and happy holidays.