Let us celebrate the freedom of flight
There’s more to manmade flight than the spewing of CO2 molecules: flying is liberating and enlightening, and that’s why millions of us do it.
As environmentalist protesters at Heathrow airport delay families setting off on summer holidays, the Manifesto Club launches a campaign webpage celebrating the freedom of flight. James Panton, a co-founder of the Manifesto Club, explains why.
The vast expansion of flight over the past few years – particularly cheap flight – has been experienced as a liberation for millions of people. It is no longer only the well-to-do who can glimpse the canals of Venice or the pyramids of Egypt, or relax on the beaches of Greece. The option of a weekend away in Prague or New York means foreign travel can now easily be fitted into the working week.
We should not apologise for flying. On the contrary, we should celebrate the freedom that flight can bring us.
More and ever cheaper flights mean that we can maintain relationships across the world. We can meet at conferences in different countries; we can keep in touch with friends from other continents, and have lovers in far-flung places. Emigrants can return home every year, rather than just sending the occasional letter. Or we can just take a weeklong summer holiday with the kids in a place with guaranteed sunshine.
The dream of flight has long captured the human imagination. The development of plane flight in the twentieth century was the result of great leaps – both leaps of imagination, and literal leaps of the curious and the crazy who flung themselves from cliffs and bridges, and launched themselves into the air to test their theories, sometimes at great personal cost. But it was worth it. As the author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh said in 1929, when manmade flight was still in its infancy: ‘Flying was a very tangible freedom. It was beauty, adventure, discovery – the epitome of breaking new worlds.’
The anti-flight, anti-airport protesters at Heathrow are right about one thing: airport authorities and airlines are not charitable foundations; they are in it for financial gain. But the growth of those industries is fuelled by the public appetite for travel. And the public are not simpletons duped by cheap flight deals; they are people taking advantage of the cosmopolitan experiences that air travel can offer; they are people who want to go on adventures, meet new friends, behold the wonders of the world.
The authorities and airlines are right about something, too: Heathrow airport, like many others, needs significant reorganisation and development. The queues are too long and the waiting is too great. There are too many planes on too few runways. Whatever the practicalities, the future must lie in expanding flight provision, not cutting it back.
But airport authorities and governments also have a great deal to answer for. It is their ludicrous security measures that are the cause of so many of the queues – lining passengers up like cattle; confiscating lip salve; squeezing cosmetics in regulation-size plastic bags; asking mothers to drink a bit of their babies’ milk. What should be the quickest, easiest and most pleasurable form of transport has become a drag, and a sometimes dehumanising experience.
The current public discussion about flying fails to recognise the role that flight plays in our daily lives. Up to 1.5 million of us pass through Heathrow every week in the summer months – and yet we are being asked to limit our travel or atone for our emissions with carbon offsets.
Flying can be, and despite the many problems, often is, experienced as a liberation. Through flight we have access to new experiences and cultural exchanges, and the world is brought closer together. However much environmentalists ask us to feel guilty for every flight we take, the reality is that we continue to fly – more often, for longer, and further. The possibility of a cleaner, faster and more efficient system of air travel is well within our grasp.
The Manifesto Club is launching a new campaign webpage, Celebrate the Freedom of Flight. We are asking you to send in your accounts of the benefits of flight – a trip that changed your life, a visit to long-unseen friends or family overseas, your plans for a summer in the sun; or your thoughts on the freedom and ease that flight does, and could, bring. Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together these accounts will give a picture of the positive meaning of flying – a counterpoint to the idea that flight is nothing more than the spewing of carbon dioxide molecules into the atmosphere. Around the world last year there were 4.4 billion person journeys; strange, then, that flying has become the good that dare not speak its name. So let us speak it, and answer the mean-spirited moralising of protesters and politicians alike.