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The Road Warriors Who Long to Be Back on an Airplane

For most of us, the airport and being crammed into a middle seat is an inconvenience. But for these travel pros, it’s their identity.

At some point during the last six months of being stuck inside, Justin, a 32-year-old project manager from Pennsylvania, came to a shocking realization: He missed flying. Not traveling to a new place, per se, but being in airports, lining up to board and squeezing into a tiny seat for hours on end. Before his company shut down non-essential travel in late February, he was flying to different countries on a near-weekly basis. So when that came to a sudden halt, he realized just how much he’d grown to love — and be comforted by — the idiosyncrasies of flying. 

“Full transparency, I used to hate flying,” Justin tells me. “The thought of being up in the air at 30,000 feet in a tin can barreling through the sky used to give me panic attacks.” And so, it took some time for him to get comfortable being in the air so much with his current job, but by January, his anxiety was gone and he’d progressed to “not minding” it. “Then COVID happened,” he says. “But I didn’t think I’d miss traveling and flying as much as I do now.” 

Along those lines, there are apparently enough people who miss being on commercial airplanes to fill flights that don’t technically “go” anywhere. For example, Qantas recently chartered a sightseeing flight for which tickets sold out within 10 minutes. Perhaps not the most environmentally-friendly way to see Uluru, but for flight-loving Australians weary of quarantine, it’s an arguably safe-ish (kinda?) way to scratch the travel itch. 

I miss flying. I miss the A380. I miss sleeping on planes. I miss eating on planes. Please let this be over so we can complain about flying again. from aviation

But for those of us who feel exhausted by the sheer thought of going through security, fumbling with luggage and getting upcharged for booze and Wi-Fi, surely taking a day-trip in the car is a better alternative

I mean, what could Justin possibly miss about all that madness? 

“Well, I did enjoy the travel ban at first,” he admits. “It was nice to not have to get up at 3 a.m. to go to the airport so I could hitch a cross-country flight. Not to mention, I was no longer missing out on things at home.” 

But then, Justin began to realize how big of a role air travel played in his identity and routine. “I enjoyed the ritual of it all, but I specifically miss a few things,” he begins. “First, I miss the friendly employees at my favorite airlines. Sure, there were some grouches, but I’d say 90 percent of the time, I dealt with excellent folks at my airlines. They made the experience all the better.” 

“I also miss feeling like I knew what I was doing,” he continues. “I had my security screening routine down pat. I knew exactly when to leave, when to get to my gate and all that. It was a ‘shared camaraderie’ between me and other frequent travelers.” 

Justin’s last flight was a 48-hour turnaround in Seattle in February. As social media and news broadcasts spelled doom, his coworker foretold that it’d likely be the last time they flew for work in a long time. With that in mind, Justin misses having the option to be forcibly disconnected from the world. “I miss being able to kick back and do nothing while I eat tiny bags of peanuts and drink overpriced whisky,” he says. “Isn’t it nice to chill out at 30,000 feet and have the ability to truly disconnect, if you so choose?”  

He even goes so far as to say that he longs for the pre-flight safety videos. “They ended up being pretty neat. Delta was excellent with that,” he tells me. 

Speaking of videos, Justin made his own re-enacting all the things he misses about flying: 

For now, Justin says he’s waiting for a vaccine to take another flight, but the urge to just go somewhere is definitely there — particularly considering how cheap airfare is at the moment. “I’ve canceled three previously-scheduled trips so far, but with winter on the way, I’m thinking I’ll succumb to cabin fever.”

Which brings him to what he misses most: “Being able to look out the window and see all of the amazing sights that this earth and atmosphere have to offer,” he says. “Seeing the sunset behind the clouds. Flying over the Great Lakes. Zooming past Mount Rainier at sunrise. It makes you feel small and helps you appreciate things a little more.” 

“This pandemic has shown us how much we take for granted. Yeah, TSA can be a pain. Yeah, you have to deal with people who line up absurdly early to board. And yeah, the food can be overpriced and subpar,” he concludes. “But when you really think about it, if you have some cash and some time, you can leave home at breakfast and be in another country — a place you’ve never seen before — by dinner. For all the hassle we deal with sometimes, it’s helpful to remember the wonder of it all.”