Heathrow Airport, we are told, needs a fifth terminal as the 50 million passengers who already use the airport annually will soon be joined by another 30 million. But what are all these people doing? Business? What about the information super highway? Pleasure? Once, travel was a thing of gradual change, where the sense of distance covered lent appreciation to the difference in culture. Once, flying had a convenience now being rediscovered by passengers who get on a train at Waterloo and off at the Gare du Nord rather than walk through endless, carpeted tubes and gaze longingly at luggageless carousels. Did you know, by the way, that you become irradiated while travelling in an aeroplane? And does eating strawberries in December represent a significant advance in civilisation? In short: aeroplanes, who really needs them?
WHERE are you reading this? Are you, by chance, up above, in an aeroplane? If you are, you have rather more company than you might think: according to our calculations, there are, at any given moment of the night and day and year, something approaching half a million people in flight around the world. And if you are not, do you seriously wish you were? Have you longed to sit with your knees jammed, arms pinned, that little folding tray down, marvelling at the indeterminate offering in the oblong dish, watching the hot coffee warily, managing a weak smile at the air hostess while bracing yourself for the moment when the person in front pushes his seat, and your tray, back at you with a sudden thrust? Have you pined for the long, uncertain wait in the departure lounge, with its harsh lights, stretched-out bodies, watching and listening for the call, debating whether the duty-free will be worth it, checking the hand baggage, looking for the boarding card? No? So why are more and more people flying?