Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections On 14 Months of Not Flying Much

After 31 years of constant weekly flying to here, there, and everywhere while toiling away in the consulting game, one day I woke up in another strange hotel and found I couldn't take the horse feathers any more. So I left the life.

I took a breather in late April, 2008, 14 months ago, and stopped--just stopped--flying. Just like that. I went home and decided to stay home for a few months to see what it would be like.

I had no intentions of retiring, and I still don't. In fact I was planning to go back on the road to replenish the family coffers late last summer when...well, you know what happened to the economy. Now consulting's as dead as Adam's housecat, and I couldn't BUY a consulting job in today's economy.

Fourteen months seems like an eternity to be away. Yet I cannot fathom that it's been over a year since I left the airport/rental car/hotel grind. The time has passed so quickly, filled with mundane family matters that I have come to dearly love, and with reflection.

The reduction of stress and dropping out of my former forever-busy schedule have afforded me time to reflect. To my surprise, some days I have ambivalent feelings about life. I no longer think the pursuit of happiness means that I’ll ever find an everlasting pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

Instead, with the usual ups and downs of moods, I find myself noticing and appreciating many small happinesses at home every day: my daughter (age 5) thrilled that she has lost her first tooth (and me scrambling to hide money under her pillow); my son (age 10) going to the piano time and again just because he likes to play; my son (same son!) asking to watch another Marx Brothers movie because he likes the humor so much; my wife pottering around in the kitchen making something she likes to cook just because she likes to cook; me trimming our giant hedge out front and finally finishing it; my ducks begging for attention by the back door like they were dogs; the chipmunks in the back yard gradually losing their fear of us; rain; sun; clouds; wind; cold; heat; a tiny spider crawling up my arm, just out of his egg; Mozart; eating bagels with my kids at Bruegger’s on Sunday morning (nearest thing we have to family worship).

Well, you get the picture. The sadness creeps in when I reflect that I spent over 30 years in a temporary job (consulting) and never found the vocation that I always felt spiritually I was destined to succeed in (I still have no idea what it might have been)—a terrible feeling of being unfulfilled like Prufrock in T. S. Eliot’s poem (“I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker…”).

I feel sad, too, when I think of the stupid things I have said to people sometimes, the small unkind moments, when I knew better but didn’t live up to my own standards.

I also feel sad that I am never likely to work again, or if I do, it will not likely be in any meaningful role.

On the whole, however, I have always ascribed to the quote that “Life is a struggle, but not a warfare.” I relish many more moments than either bore me to tears or beleaguer me with woe. Maybe it’s because I have a fine sense of irony and a wicked sense of humor, including about myself. Anyway, I can’t go back, so I focus on the present more than I ever have, and I don’t worry too much about what’s coming.

And I sure don't miss going to the airport!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Reflections On the Air France Flight Lost At Sea

As of this writing the fate of the Air France flight between Rio and Paris is unknown. Like everyone everywhere, I hope searchers find everyone safe and sound bobbing in rafts on the Atlantic much like the miraculous US Airways that landed on the Hudson and safely evacuated
the passengers and crew.

However, a
fter thousands of flights over 49 years, many of them very long and over oceans, I am realistic about what probably happened. Anyone who has flown much has considered the possibility of going down.

I am not a nervous flier, but neither am I blase about any flight. Looking out a window from thirty thousand feet, one realizes how utterly dependent upon reliable technology and skilled piloting we have all become, not to mention good flying weather and the avoidance of bad weather. In the air I sometimes feel alone and at the mercy of good design, manufacturing, maintenance, and handling to keep us safe. I don't dwell on it much, but I do think about it sometimes.

It's especially lonely way out over an ocean. Far from ATC radar coverage, the fragile aluminum tube full of even more fragile human beings hurdles through the upper atmosphere in one of the last places on earth without continuous surveillance. Being tracked does not, of course, keep the plane safe, but when tragedy strikes, help can be dispatched at once instead of hours later if the event is monitored.

Flying nearby a massive electrical storm in the middle of an ocean is particularly humbling. En route from LAX to Tahiti last December with my family I thought about how pitifully small and vulnerable we were when, in the middle of the night, our pilots threaded the A340 carefully around and between several powerful thunderstorm systems in the South Pacific. I soberly contemplated how terrible it would be if those wind and electrical forces took hold of our plane and forced us down: certain death for my kids, my wife, me, everyone on the plane. I was glad we were well away from the storms, yet they still seemed too close.

People aboard last night's Air France flight across the Atlantic were probably lost at sea in just such a way. I am deeply troubled by the horror they must have faced. May God have mercy on their souls.