Back to Grey Britain and a New Direction for air travel research

Wednesday 12 January and, sadly, very sadly, time to leave the Rockies and return home.  I have enjoyed it here very much.  The mountains, the rivers, the snow, the cold, the skiing, the walking, the town, the people.  And being here with Ruth and Tim

Ruth and Tim were leaving too, going to Calgary for a couple of days before moving on to Jasper for 10 days skiing there.  So we had to pack and clear the apartment.  It took all morning until the 13.00 check-out time.  There was a vast amount of stuff.  I had 4 bags including a ski bag padded out with clothes which Ruth and Tim had decided they would not need.  Ruth and Tim had more.

The apartment is behind the hotel on Banff Avenue from outside which the airport shuttle bus would pick us up at 15.30.  Ruth and Tim were coming to the airport to make sure I left the country and were then going to their hotel.

It had been snowing most of the night and all of the morning so we trundled the bags across the car park to the hotel lobby through about 6 inches of powder snow.  A real shame to be leaving such good conditions.  It took 7 person-trips  in all but then we left the luggage with the reception staff and went to the food hall in the basement of one of the shopping malls for something to eat. The wind was very gusty, whipping the fine snow off roofs and making it necessary to walk bent over and head down.  I couldn’t help reflect on the wet, grey weather forecast for home and feel gloomy.  I far prefer this sub-arctic weather.

It was still like that when the shuttle bus came, more or less on time.

That’s when, necessarily but sadly, I entered the worm hole.  Fans of Star Trek will know that Deep Space Nine is a space station adjacent to the entrance to a worm hole which leads from the Alpha Quadrant to the Delta Quadrant.  It’s a kind of transit conduit between two very different sectors of space and is itself like neither of them, is populated by aliens and passing through it is mind-numbingly disorienting.  The relevance of this potted intro to Star Trek??

We carried the bags from the lobby to the bus and that was the last contact with the real world for a very long time.

The first leg of the journey was two hours on the shuttle on the Trans Canada Highway and circumnavigating Calgary.  Most of the way it was light so at least we could see the outside world through the window but we were in a sealed pod with no real contact with it.  When we pulled up outside the airport it was pitch dark in a freezing cold and windswept tunnel.  We went straight inside, a walk of about 12 feet.

The parallel between an international airport and Deep Space Nine is clear.  Both are populated by aliens in transit in an unreal environment offering hospitality and entertainment at an inflated price and subject to strict levels of security and control.  The main difference was that in Calgary airport some of the uniformed staff were dressed like cowboys, including Stetson hats, an acknowledgement that Calgary is the centre of cattle country.

We had a sandwich and drink, my introduction to Subway butties, and then I went through security check into the inner sanctum.  Ruth and Tim went back to the outside world and the rest of their stay in the Rockies.  After hanging around DS9, sorry, the airport, for 3 hours it was then time to file to a shuttle bay and thence via a tube into the aircraft.  Once again still inside the worm hole and no contact with the outside world.  Take-off 20.20 Rocky Mountain Time, only 25 minutes late.

The 9½ hours on the plane is best forgotten.  The main objective of the trip seemed to be to sleep as much as possible to help overcome effects of jet-lag.  Prostrate bodies everywhere all wearing complimentary British Airways eye shades.  I don’t sleep much anyway so was on a different schedule.  Read a book, watched documentaries and TV comedies, walked up and down the gangway, dozed a bit.

The window screens were closed for night flying and remained closed as we flew towards the sunrise.  Cabin crew kept them closed throughout the flight to maintain the illusion that it was still night so that people would continue to sleep.  But it wasn’t really night for much of the trip.  In terms of RMT we were arriving at about 05.00  but in New Real Time we landed at about 13.00 GMT by which time it had been light outside for a good few hours.

Straight off the plane into a shuttle bus. 15 minutes driving around the airport with all the space and comfort of a sardine tin.  Into Terminal 5, long corridors, security and ‘UK Border Control’, then the baggage hall.  Hang around in arrivals for half an hour and out under the canopied bus terminus.  Still inside the worm hole.

Next stage was onto a National Express coach for another 3 hours.  By now I had had more than enough of this worm hole.  I finally emerged back into the real but very different world of Newport Bus Station at 17.30 GMT.  A total of 17 hours in the worm hole without any contact with the real world.  Daylight, snowing, -20oC at one end. Night-time dark, very wet, very grey and +10oC at the other end.

Ever get the feeling you just want to turn round and go back?  If only it was that easy to use it as a two-way tunnel.

Anyway, as I’m in science fiction mode, the experience was so mind-numbing that I thought I should consider what can be done to improve the travel experience.  The starting point is the universal acceptance that long distance air travel is boring and tedious and that the only way to cope is to switch off your brain.  Planes are full of people trying to render themselves unconscious with cabin staff only too pleased to assist by issuing eye-shades, pillows, blankets, and alcohol, maintaining the illusion that it is night time.

So why not take more positive steps to achieve the desired goal?  Oblivion for the duration of the journey!

Solution?  Medically induced sleep.   Advantages?  Many!!!

From the passengers’ point of view the journey is already so many hours out of a life and removing the tediousness of it must be advantageous.  They could be woken up from sleep at an appropriate time to offset jet-lag.  From the airlines’ point of view more people can be crammed into a plane because they would require less space.  It would save on feeding passengers.  It would save on loos which, by having catheterised plumbing, would increase carrying capacity and save on cleaning costs and paper.  Ryan Air could even load passengers on board in wooden boxes to facilitate handling and administration costs in the unfortunate event of a crash.  I could go on but you get the message.  There would be lots of advantages.  A genuine win:win situation.  I suggest a major change of direction for R&D into air travel.

I hope to go back to the Rockies.  The destination is very appealing,  The getting there is not. But these changes would make the prospect much more acceptable.


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