Quickly disappearing is what many of us road warriors regarded as one of the last bastions of calm — the airplane cabin.
In the wild west days of Wi-Fi, as it was making its first appearance on airplanes, I recall boarding the business class cabin of a long-haul Turkish Airlines flight between Istanbul and North America. A group of young men nearby logged on to the Wi-Fi as soon as it was switched on — and proceeded to spend the first hours of the flight chatting away loudly on Skype to their buddies on the ground.
Which brings me to travel best practice No. 1: Give some thought to the weary traveler next to you. And when faced with this situation, ask the cabin crew to request the passenger use earphones or turn the volume down.
In the past year or so, while working on my forthcoming book on the digital age, I’ve become an undocumented sociologist, observing up close how the travel experience has been transformed, for better and for worse, by technology. Our screens are diminishing the overall travel experience, and airlines and other travel operators share part of the blame for enabling our dependence.
I am old enough to recall the days when climbing aboard a long-haul flight meant hours of uninterrupted glee. I’d be completely out of reach from workaholic bosses or temperamental editors and oblivious to breaking news on the ground. I’ve watched more movies in the air than on the ground, gazed at stunning sunrises over the Arctic snows, done some of my best writing in the air, and have forged lifelong friendships.
Connect with those around you instead of Wi-Fi
One of the most incredible experiences I’ve had at 30,000 feet was on a four-hour flight between Toronto and Edmonton with an off-duty Air Canada flight attendant sitting next to me. Soon after I said hello, I learned that she was the airline’s lone Afghan flight attendant. Things unexpectedly turned deep when she volunteered to read my soul. She closed her eyes tightly, clasped my hands for what seemed like an eternity, and proceeded to reveal aspects of my relationship with my father to which I was only privy to. We chatted the entire flight and kept in touch afterward.
Instead of connecting to Wi-Fi, maybe we should connect with those around us. This summer in Milan, the city was hit by a lightning rail labor strike. By the time the departure board turned red, I had already become acquainted with the Italian businessman standing next to me on the train platform — so it was a no-brainer to organize a group rescue taxi to the airport.
That brings me to travel best practice No. 2: Take a moment to at least share a glance or greet your fellow traveler. If things go sideways, they could be a lifesaver.
Of course, technology can be a godsend, especially when things go wrong. I’ve developed the practice of powering up certain travel booking apps at the first hint of a disruption. It’s allowed me to skip congested airline customer service counters and avoid extortionate airport hotel prices when waves of sudden cancellations trigger huge price spikes.
Travel and the selfie culture
But excessive screen time is diminishing that skill. “If you don’t use it, you lose it. And we’re losing something that’s uniquely human,” Rosen said.
So next time you’re at 30,000 feet and faced with the choice of powering up your smartphone, speaking to your seat mate, or gazing through the window, choose carefully. Remember: use it or lose it.