Finding the moments of pure aviation joy

It always feels a little funny to tell people that I find joy in aviation, in traveling by air, in the airline passenger experience that most people consider between tolerable and traumatic. Those moments of joy, I’ve found, are about people.

They’re spending hours chatting with friends in an airport bar, lounge or the back galley of an aircraft. It’s the wide-ranging discussions I’m fortunate enough to have as an aviation journalist with other people whose passion for the industry matches my own.

The joy is in those moments of connection, even as fleeting as they are: nattering away with flight attendants on upturned boxes in a rear galley, or receiving the warmth of a genuine thank you for offering a small token of appreciation in the form of candy or chocolate to the crew. In aviation, we have so many fleeting encounters with each other — teams of flight and cabin crews who are used to working with new people every time they go to work, and those of us who they serve — and so many opportunities to make a difference to someone’s day.

The joy is finding your own favorite spot in the lounge. Image: John Walton

It’s the crew who discover it’s your birthday and pop back to your economy seat with a celebratory glass of bubbles snaffled from business. It’s the lounge staffers who recognize you after you’ve spent a summer shuttling backwards and forwards between two airports for family reasons, whose smiles light up with recognition, like it’s a faintly odd neighborhood bar that perhaps you’d never have thought of to choose but somehow ended up making your local.

The joy is in helping others: the small kindnesses we can all do for our fellow travelers, whether that’s striking up a friendly conversation with a stressed parent seated next to us, offering to help someone with their luggage, or bringing back a cup of tea for our seatmates from a galley run.

The joy is in how everyone involved pulls together to keep us flying, no matter the weather. Image: John Walton

It’s people watching, in that Love Actually sort of way, at arrivals, watching the exhausted hard-lipped faces and their thousand-yard stares, the eyes scanning the crowd that burst into delight in an instant of recognition, the gratefully tired crew on their way home, all a true spectrum of humanity.

It’s appreciating the lines of an aircraft, of a wing, of a winglet, of a nacelle, of a tail, of some of the most complicated machines that humanity has ever designed and manufactured.

The joy is in the sweep of a wing, the curve of a winglet, the twitch of a control surface. Image: John Walton

The joy is in the moments of beauty that can only come five miles high, looking out at this small, watery pebble we call home, where the air is thinner and our minds slide into a different mode. It’s having the time to stop, to think, to reflect, to listen to the still, small voice of calm that is often inaudible in the bustle of our daily lives.

It’s that moment of elation as the nosewheel lifts off and the anticipation mounts for a trip, and it’s that momentary, barely noticeable sensation of slowing just before the start of descent is announced.

It’s the space of a roomy seat on a quiet widebody with a top-notch inflight entertainment widescreen as you soar between continents, and the cramped confines of that tiny puddlejumper that takes you on that last hop to your destination.

The joy is in finding a new perspective on the world. Image: John Walton

The joy is the sense of anticipation as the scent of oven-warmed meals wafts through the cabin, the slow race as the flight attendant in the other aisle pushes their trolley down the aisle faster than yours, the anticipation of chicken-or-beef, the tiny finger-burning foil-wrapped drama of peeling back the lid.


It’s the tomato juice you never drink at home, the ginger ale that somehow tastes better in the air, the warm airport beer at an hour when you’d never dream of cracking one open anywhere else.

It’s the overpriced turkey sandwich you’d never pick out of a deli counter, the airport wine bar flight tasting, the delight of the random international chocolate bar lottery in the newsagent.

It’s sitting at an airport window and watching the slow, giant fishbowl ballet of aircraft, catering trucks, tugs, baggage loaders, rampers, ground services and everything else that has been so carefully designed to help us explore our world, to connect and reconnect with our families, to live and love and learn across continents and across borders.

The joy in aviation is people.

The joy is in watching as an airport hums around its business. Image: John Walton

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