The view from the window: Reflections from 35,000 feet…

I’m writing this sitting on a plane at 35,000 ft. And I need to kill the boredom.

This is the decidedly unglamorous side of travel. I remember, growing up, reading my mother’s series of “Shirley Flight: Air Hostess” books – she had the complete set and they are still on the bookshelves in my spare room – which portrayed air travel in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a different era, but when I first started flying I still had quite a glamorous image in my head of what jet travel would be. Needless to say, I’ve been proved wrong.

Let me set the scene here. I’m cramped into a window seat, with my laptop half-balanced on my tray table and my complimentary beer taking up space on the other half (ok, so that bit isn’t so bad). My bag is on the floor just below me, but getting anything out of it requires a serious contortion as I try to squeeze my upper body down over my lap, head between knees that are in the way because there’s nowhere else for them to go. (Later in the flight I upended half a glass of water over myself performing just this manoeuvre). Next to me is a gentleman who smelt of alcohol when he got on the plane and whose elbow, which easily overhangs the armrest, has had me twisted to the side for the last 3 hours, and there are another 4 still to go. I’m assuming I will be feeling the back strain tomorrow.

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Onboard Emirates flight EK040!

However, elegant though they are certainly not, I still get excited about plane journeys – especially the ones that go to more exotic destinations. For one thing, I’m not a person who regularly sits still for any length of time (and if my body is still, my mind has the concentration span of a gnat), so flights force me to relax and slow down the pace. I also get plenty of uninterrupted reading time, plus a chance to catch up on downloaded tv (I’m not really a film person – see my comment about the attention span).

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On a short flight for once! On the tarmac Labuan Bajo airport with Garuda Indonesia

But the best thing about flying, for me – apart from the destination – is the view out of the window. And I’ve had spectacular ones over the years.

I’m on a flight to Dubai as I write this post, and the map shows we are over Bucharest, Romania. On this occasion it’s just as well I’ve already been there, as I can’t see a thing through the clouds. I’m at the rear of the plane, though, behind the engine of our Boeing 777, and have a ringside seat for the clouds beneath us and the thin layer of cloud being blown backwards by the jet engine, making me more aware than usual of the speed we are travelling at (which is 542 mph apparently). The sun is setting, too, which is making for a beautiful view.

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That’s not just any cloud at the bottom – that’s 542mph cloud…

However, even though I can’t see the ground right now, I’ve had some stunning experiences over the years. On a flight from San Francisco to London some ten years ago, I remember flying straight over Lake Tahoe, with a beautiful view I’ll probably never see again. On the same flight, we then flew over Greenland, through the midnight sun of early July, with a panoramic view of the rocks, valleys and glaciers of the arctic summer.

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Greenland under the midnight sun

I’ve flown over Basra, Iraq, with a clear view to the ground; I’ve flown past Lake Baikal in Siberia several times, in both summer and winter, with fantastic views in each season. I’ve seen the Himalayas from above the plains of India, and on a night-time flight from Seoul to Bangkok flew down the length of Taiwan from north to south, watching the whole island pass by as a series of lights below us. And landing in the Maldives was particularly special as we banked over the atolls.

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Flying in over the Maldives – I was fascinated by the Mickey Mouse atoll!

These airplane window experiences have inspired me to travel to some of the places I’ve only seen from above. This trip is exhibit A: I am off to Taiwan, to see what is there below the night-time neon I came so tantalisingly close to. A trip to Oman a few years back was very similar: flying from Dubai to the Maldives, we flew over the Sharqiya Sands and the Omani desert, crossing the coastline where the sand meets the sea. It was so intriguing that I went to Oman properly a couple of years later to experience it for myself.

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Sharqiya Sands, Oman

What is my top spot from a plane window? Well, in September 2015 I went to Madagascar, with flights via Nairobi. And on the way, I noticed a few people on our (thankfully half-empty) flight rushing to the window. I had to grab my camera out of the overhead locker; down below us was Mount Kilimanjaro, swathed in cloud but with the summit, so elusive at the best of times, on full display. Yes, this is why I love flying.

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Mount Kilimanjaro

 


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