I experience a tiny thrill every time the captain announces, “Doors on automatic, cabin crew cross-check and report.” It means that everyone’s boarded, the doors have shut on the outside world, and we’re ready for take-off.
Once I hear that announcement, it’s my signal to switch over to my personal ‘airplane mode.’
I’ve found that this airplane mode in people is not just one setting. It’s a series of shifts in energy, aura, whatever you’d like to call it. Something about being lifted away from the ground creates these variations in people’s behaviour, and over the years I’ve come to identify and register when they happen.
The first gear-shift for me begins by taking a few minutes to register all my immediate neighbours. Usually, this time is when everyone else is also switching over from regular to airplane modes – so I observe my fellow passengers as they settle in: business travellers, celebrities, solo travellers, couples, politicians (!) etc.
Most of all, it’s especially interesting to differentiate between those who are new to air travel – especially Business/First Class travel – and the veterans. Most travel-veterans (especially working executives) immediately start to withdraw into their private headspaces. But some- the Talkers, will use this time to make their conversation openings with the person they’re most curious about.
These Talkers will zero in on their prey, even as they take their seat –a celebrity is an easy first choice, or someone attractive looking/creatively dressed. As the flight takes off, so do the Talkers! And it’s a tough task to get them to stop if you were looking forward to some quiet time!
To be fair though, I’ve also had conversations with non-Talker travel veterans that have been stimulating and long (or short) enough to be welcome to both parties. Tech gadgets are a popular common ground, and I recall an excellent conversation with Anurag Kashyap, whose work I admire, that started with a query from him about my iPad.
Veterans aside, I’ve always found the new travellers to be more interesting. Some close their eyes and shut themselves inside a personal cocoon during take-off, while others will be examining all the available airline frills and comforts. A sense of wonder radiates from these Business/First Class newbies, and I find their awe and enthusiasm uplifting. Watching them makes me revisit my thankfulness for the comforts we’re surrounded by, my mind relaxes and expands, and I get ready for my next gear shift.
Sleep-time aside, second gear for me is always about contemplation. The altitude, the steady hum of the engines, and the relative quietness after everyone’s settled in, all mark a great time for me to introspect; I start up my e-journal and set personal goals, or examine my progress and setbacks.
Or, I use the time to ready myself for upcoming meetings. In fact, I find that I’m always best prepared for my meetings that follow a long transit time, owing to this period of second-gear prep. If it’s a return journey though, the second gear of my airplane mode invariably involves catching up on my quota of Bollywood entertainment!
Third and final gear prior to landing is, of course, a winding-down, a mental (and literal) reconnect to gravity. This is the time when I’ll fill feedback forms. I like to commend any specific crew members by name. I’ll make a side note of appreciation here to Jet Airways – my preferred business airline of late – for their typically warm, and engagingly Indian approach to passenger hospitality.
And finally, just before touch-down, I inwardly offer gratitude, for the pleasure and privilege of a first-rate travel experience.
Long-haul travel is an integral part of a business leader’s life and for many, it becomes nothing more than a necessary evil. To me, over time and with experience, I have learned to turn each such flight into a personally, professionally and creatively fulfilling time.
Do comment with the thoughts and strategies you have about managing long-haul air travel. I’d love to hear and learn from my fellow travellers. Life’s Good ! God’s Kind !!