Up in the air again

A plane from a plane

A plane from a plane

In 2007, I flew for work for the last time. I haven’t flown since – for any reason. Until yesterday.

I have very mixed feelings about it, and those feelings include flygskam or ‘flying shame’.

Why fly?

On the plus side, I am going to see my daughter and find out first hand about Tokyo: the place she has been living for the last six months, as part of her degree. I am visiting Japan – a country that everyone who has been there tells me is as foreign and different as it could be while still being a modern democracy. A country with an entirely different religious sensibility, a reverence for nature, technological innovation, a non-militarised constitution… The Japanese people who have helped me plan my trip have been generous and welcoming.

I expect my eyes will be opened.

I will meet lots of facilitators and sustainability professionals, and learn about how their work is similar and different to my own practice, which is very parochial as it is limited to places I can access by bike, ferry and train. I hope to make a pilgrimage of sorts to the Kyoto International Conference Centre, where the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change was signed back in 1997.  The year my daughter was born.

Why not?

On the minus side, I am falling off my no-flying wagon and there is no hiding this. In the year when #flyingless and #nofly2019 have been appearing on my social media, I am going in the opposite direction. 

Making the best of it

I am doing some of the things that people recommend, to assuage my guilt. I will offset the flights with Climate Care, who have been my offsetter of choice for years. I am going for just under three weeks – somehow staying longer makes the high altitude carbon emissions more ‘worth it’. I am using the trip as a study tour as well as a holiday. But none of this feels enough for me to be totally happy about it.

What’s flying like?

What’s it like to fly, after so long? Absolutely stunningly exciting! I don’t have a fear of flying. It’s novel enough for me to be excited about the whole adventure. I like the level of service I am getting from all the many people whose job is to greet and look after me.

And it is amazing. What an achievement! I marvel at the tech that gets us safely into the sky and speedily half way across the world, which only works because of a stunning level of cooperation between people of all cultures, political systems and time-zones.

We have got to the point where we can travel from one side of our planet - as far as we know the only inhabitable one in this whole wide universe - to the other in less than a day. It’s astonishing. It’s also excessive, decadent, obscene. We shouldn’t be able to circumnavigate our only home in such a short space of time. It’s slightly terrifying.

And hugely impressive. If we can do this, surely we can do anything? We can conjure energy from the sun, wind and water. We can work out how to share it fairly.

So much flying

But it doesn’t seem amazing to most of my fellow travelers, from what I can see. It’s commonplace.

Up here, above the clouds, I’m struck by how many other aircraft I can see, trailing their dark grey smoke behind them. There’s one now, speeding along at the same height as us, looking like one of those cars that break the land speed record on a salty flat desert, all dart and dust and exhaust.

A lot of people work in aviation, and a lot of people have designed their lives around cheap, frequent, convenient air travel. #flyingless isn’t going to be easy for them. Building our current air travel system wasn’t easy either, but it was rewarding. How can we make #flyingless rewarding?