Six Hours to Go

Tomorrow we embark on a 14-hour flight to New Zealand. It will be the 8th time I’ve done it, so I have my routines and tricks to get through the ordeal. But the truth is: I sort of love it. The flight, I mean. Its phases and rhythms. At first everyone is excited and fresh and wakeful. Settling their bits and bobs around them, their gadgets and toys and snacks. It seems impossible that your behemoth of a plane, groaning with humanity and luggage and iPads and drink carts, could ever get off the ground. The takeoff acceleration phase feels waaaaaay longer than it should be—there’s far too much shuddering—but then, you’re aloft! Every time, it’s a fucking miracle. You climb and climb and climb and then the flight settles and unrolls its phases: entertainment, dinner, more wine, pajama time, teeth brushing, eye masks, lights dimmed, sleeping pills, snuggly blankets, strangers snuffling and shifting in their seats. Hours go by in the hush and dark. If you get up to pee you will pass through a silent ward of rows upon rows of human beings huddled under their stiff gray blankets, snoring and sighing and trusting a huge machine to carry them over the cold Pacific. There will be one or two other people awake, and you’ll catch their eyes and nod slightly, silently, in recognition. Where are we? This is madness, right? You will have to work your way around a child’s slippered foot sticking out into the aisle. You won’t want to wake her. Hours and hours will go by when you drift in and out of a wakeful doze, the sleeping pill pulling you under and then releasing you into the dusky cabin, over and over again. Finally you’ll give up and decide it’s morning, check your watch, do a quick calculation, and realize that you still have six hours to go. For some reason, it’s always six. So you’ll sit quietly in your seat, reluctant to turn on the seat-back TV and disturb your neighbors with its bright light, and simply stare out the window into the void around you, above you, and below you. Hope that you make it through and that, impossibly, a tiny scrap of land in the middle of the planet’s vastest ocean will pull you safely back to earth. It’s still a long way away. You trust it’s there waiting for you, because you’ve done this before. But you never know.

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