Saturday, July 12, 2008

Aeroplanes: They’re just common aren’t they?

The appeal of air travel is rooted in a spurious 1960s notion of glamour involving well-groomed people hopping on and off Concorde who are on the one hand entirely unaware of problems like noise pollution and their colossal carbon footprint but on the other hand are carrying really nice little blue bags with BOAC written on them. The truth today is far more democratic and infinitely more ghastly. Every few minutes a chubby little orange-and-white aeroplane takes off from one of the airports clustered around London, packed to bursting point with people who are unlikely to be able to eat, drink, or visit the lavatory for over an hour. They will be flown at speeds well in excess of 500mph to assorted destinations around the world that have become more English than England itself by dint of the current cheapness of flying. International journeys have become nasty, brutish and short.

There are some worthy souls who are very much opposed to the popularisation of air travel. They will point out that British emissions of CO2 from aircraft shot up from a far from acceptable 4.6 million tons in 1990 to a somewhat disquieting 8.8 million tons in 2000. But with the queasyjet lifestyle still expanding (the current annual figure of 180 million sweaty tourists is expected to rise to something like 476 million even sweatier tourists per year by 2030) our gaseous emissions will rise to 17.7 million tons in 2030. 

It’s enough to make the most sanguine Range Rover owner a little concerned. Don’t worry yet, it’s about to get worse: Aircraft emissions that go directly into the stratosphere have at least twice the global warming effect of emissions from cars or power stations at ground level and, based on the Government's own calculations, the effect of the 2030 emissions will be equivalent to a genuinely frightening 44.3 million tons of carbon – around 45 per cent of Britain's expected emissions total at that date. That’s enough to worry a Clarkson.

Some people don’t have time to worry about the ecological effect of air travel because they’re too busy worrying about the ‘plane crashing. In fact this is very unlikely. Statistically the chances of an average person being involved in a major aircraft accident are close to nil. You probably already knew this, but the most dangerous part of any aeroplane jouney ends when you leave your car in long term parking. One you’re aboard the ‘plane you’re probably safe. It’s not all good news though. Statistically the chances of spending the next hour or so trapped in a metal tube full of strangers farts and eating terrible terrible food while potentially fatal blood clots accumulate in your legs are, in defiance of some natural laws, a little over 100%.

The original appeal of air travel was based on its exclusivity. Over the last twenty years it has become one of those exotic commodities like cappuccino, cocaine, or ciabatta that have regrettably trickled down as far as the tracksuit wearing classes. Consequently a trip on a modern airliner is like an extended wait in some vast cylindrical dole office. When the mile high club throws open its doors to people with elasticated waistbands it is time, my friends, to leave the club.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what point you're making in your article but your first sentence is seriously flawed; the first time anyone could hop on or off a Concorde was 1976. Anyone thinking of the aircraft or the name in "the 60's" had a vivid imagination.

As an ex-airline man myself I have always been surprised that the industry allowed the term "long-haul" to become common parlance for a long flight - it's accurate but that's not the way to sell seats! Equally the appeal of flying with more and more people. One would have thought the real luxury was to fly alone.