How the dream of flight became a nightmare

To previous generations, flight was a vision of freedom. We looked up longingly at the birds and saw them released from the chains of gravity, able to float like angels on the invisible breeze and get a whole new perspective on life.

This was what we wanted, wasn’t it? To be released?

So it’s ironic that when most of us fly nowadays – now the miracle has happened – we find ourselves much less free than when we walk around, tied to the ground.

Airports are prisons, with strict rules about where you can venture and what you can take with you. You are forced to wait in a cell-like area for much longer than is necessary, you may be searched, and your belongings are examined. Flights are always late taking off. It’s a nightmare.

And even when you get airborne, there is no experience of freedom. You are shut into a metal tube with not enough room for your legs or any other part of your body. There is a risk of blood clots, and a much higher risk of catching something from one of the other passengers, since the air you breathe is constantly recirculated, together with the germs and viruses. You can’t sleep.

You may catch a glimpse of the huge airy spaces outside, but more often than not, there is nothing to see. The whole experience has to be endured, rather than enjoyed. Freedom doesn’t enter into it.

This is all true for the average human being. For the more fragile among us, it is much worse.

Of course the more privileged – by which I mean the rich (and there seem to be a lot of them) – have a rather more benign experience, involving special lounges, beds, silver service and unlimited drinks.

While imprisoned in a departure lounge not long ago, waiting to board, I discovered just how many people were more privileged and shiny than me and who would therefore board first. It started with ruby and continued through platinum, sapphire, executive platinum, emerald, business and, eventually, first class. Then, at last, came groups one to four. I was in group four. I know my place.

But even for the exalted creatures who go before me, it’s still a long way from freedom, and not at all what our ancestors might have envisaged.

Should we abandon the whole idea and revert to roaming free on land and sea? Should we try paragliding or Autogiros? Perhaps a Cessna would be a step in the right direction.

Sadly, having stepped into the prison of commercial flights, it’s hard to step back. The time saved in reaching “desirable” destinations is a magnet to which we become firmly attached, and we accept the huge restrictions that it involves. I wish I never had to fly again, but I will.

In my dreams I tell myself it’s for the birds. But I’m locked into it. I have to get away.