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Molnar: Wonders of Flight

Setting aside for the moment the recent crash of a commercial plane, and with sincere apologies to friends and family for all my years of whining about the travails of flying, here’s an ode - sort of - to the wonders of flight.

First, let’s establish that hurtling through the air six miles above the earth is the safest way to travel. Some 43,000 people die in car accidents each year in the United States. By comparison, the death risk for airline passengers is one in 45 million. Around the world, 475 people died in airplanes last year.
And flying today is cheaper, faster, and as wondrous as ever.
On a recent Wednesday, my husband and I decided to visit family in Oregon the following week. I refuse to leave Vermont in any season but mud, but seeing two of our widely scattered children at once was a rare opportunity. Within a couple of hours, we had our tickets.
Yes, they were expensive and our seats backed up to the toilets. But we did book them at the last minute. And it did take two average workdays to get to Portland, but then, we’re the ones who chose to live in verdant Vermont, far from major airports with their noise and pollution. And it was our daughter’s choice to live three time zones away - in the wrong one - as I regularly remind her.

The bottom line is this: we left Vermont in the morning, and had dinner that night in Portland. Very late at night, but still within the same day on the calendar.

The sheer wonder of this is lost in the cacophony of tales of flying horrors. But here’s what we forget to consider: Throughout human history, people dreamed of flying. But it remained a fantasy until 1903 when the Wright brothers made their first successful flight. In the intervening 110 years, flight has revolutionized the way we live.
Until not so long ago, flying was glamorous. But in the past couple of decades, as the cost has come down and security has gone up, it has, by necessity, lost its allure. Focused on the discomforts, we’ve become oblivious to the simple fact that we can get on a plane anytime and get anywhere in the world in just hours.

And while the pretzels we’re awarded for our patience in lines leaves us unimpressed, a glance out the window should rekindle our sense of wonder. Simply being held aloft in a monstrously weighty machine as clouds mass below us and the sun bounces off the wing should revive that wow factor.

Flying, said author Richard Bach, is freedom, pure joy. Now, while joy may be a slight exaggeration, freedom and power continue to hold true. And neither dry pretzels, terrible coffee, or even having to walk barefoot on dirty security checkpoint floors can take that away.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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