Qantas Just Ruined Flying Forever

24/02/2016 10:10 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Bloomberg via Getty Images
An Airbus SAS A321 aircraft operated by Jetstar Airways, the budget arm of Qantas Airways Ltd., is silhouetted as it takes off from Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Qantas Airways is scheduled to announce half-year earnings on Feb. 23. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg via Getty Images

unreachable /nritəb(ə)l/ adj. unable to be reached or contacted; inaccessible.

Sorry to spell it out but I wanted you to see the true meaning of this wonderful word one last time before it disappears into the kind of thin air that airplanes with wi-fi flap about in.

Yep, Qantas has just announced that from 2017 it will be flying phone booths around the skies, with trials of Skype and FaceTime to be part of "the world's best in-flight wi-fi experience".

Technobabble has brought about many new dictionary definitions, from spam to Siri and everything in between. But now technology is making the dictionary thinner rather than fatter by rendering words such as 'unreachable' passé, or at least confined to describing children's footballs in tree branches.

I'm no hermit, but as far as I'm concerned the best time is down time, being off limits, as unreachable as that football. That's one of the reasons I love flying. No one can reach me and I'm free to switch off both my mind and the ever-increasing number of gadgets that keep it connected to the world. Flying is about freedom, about the wild blue yonder. It's a beautiful irony that life stops while you're rocketing along just shy of the speed of sound.

But soon it will stop no more.

aircraft phone

"Hey, forgot to ask if you could grab me a face mask."

Last time I flew to Europe was on an Emirates A380 -- the world's largest commercial aircraft, so big it should have its own postcode when it lands. Whoever said size doesn't matter didn't work for Airbus? I would hate to be a cloud these days.

As usual I was flying cattle class but I stole a peek upstairs as I boarded and am fairly sure I spied a waterfall, or perhaps it was just a waterfall effect on the wall. Whatever it was, the only waterfall I have previously encountered on a long-haul flight was a leaking loo. Apparently there's a bar up there as well; one of the few bars on, um, earth that you can stumble away from and blame it on turbulence.

I was looking forward to the flight as much as the holiday because for me 'getting away from it all' starts when the pilots throttle the throttles. As I ordered a drink and reclined my chair, the purser announced that our cutting-edge craft was equipped with, da-da-ding, free wi-fi! This elicited an audible cheer from a number of passengers. It was as though they had been told we had enough oxygen for the journey.

But I'm getting off track, which is dangerous when you're flying. Where was I? Ah, yes -- 30,000 feet above the Arabian Desert, about as remote as you can get from George Street, yet I could still receive unsolicited emails hawking Viagra.

Call me a dinosaur, or a Pterodactyl in this case, but I don't want to be able to Skype or use my mobile phone on a commercial flight, or at least a long-haul commercial flight. Yes, I know I can switch it off if I wish to remain unreachable, but I can't turn yours off, or those of the other 500 people on board.

aircraft phone

"Oh, and some business-class pyjamas."

A few weeks after that flight I was minding my own business on a London bus when the phone of a female passenger behind me started belting out Beyonce -- her ring tone. I don't know what the passenger looked like, but there is nothing I don't know about her love life. (He's 'babe-a-licious') Or her new job. (It's 'pants', which means 'shit' in the UK.) Or her flatmate. (Won't wash the dishes and picks his toenails when he watches a film.) Or last Saturday at the pub. (Drank too much.) Or the location of her next piercing... (Ouch!)

Everything the person on the other end of the line said was greeted with "presh", which I'm assuming meant "precious", and which, in a remarkable parallel, describes how I am on the subject of mobile phones and public transport.

At first I quite enjoyed her conversation. Other people's lives are far more interesting than mine. But after three or four stops and 15 mentions of the word "presh" I wanted to tell her to pierce her tongue rather than her belly-button, if only because it might shut her up for a bit.

The one thing I clang onto on the 271 to Highgate Village was the fact that my stop wasn't far away. Imagine how I might have felt had we been 30,000 feet above the Arabian Desert with 12 hours of unintentional eavesdropping ahead. Perhaps that's why there's a bar on board.

I'm sure Qantas is smart enough to ask us to consider our fellow passengers in its trial of Skype and FaceTime. Perhaps they will have sections of the plane where you can use phones and sections where you can't. But that's not the point. There is something wonderful about distance, about being remote, about not having everything immediately, about anticipation, about missing people...

As the world shrinks and communicating with others seems to preoccupy the planet more than feeding every person on it, the beauty of distance disappears.

And that is far from presh.

aircraft phone

"What film are you watching?"

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