Skyfaring / Mark Vanhoenacker

There is certainly poetry to be found when navigating the world aloft in an airplane. However, few pilots are poets. Mark Vanhoenacker, who flies a Boeing 747, turns out to have a poet’s soul with the necessary writing chops to capture and convey the magic of soaring miles above the clouds, traversing the globe as a part of his daily routine.

His revelatory reflection on the experience of modern air travel made me appreciate all over again the wonder I felt the first time I traveled across the country on a plane. Vanhoenacker masterfully explains the business of air travel as experienced from the cockpit. While he describes the nuts and bolts issues of taking more than one hundred passengers airborne, he also addresses the psychological aspects of leaving the boundaries of earth and traveling long distances in a relatively short amount of time. In the process, he reminds us of the wide-eyed amazement of the actual experience.

The chapter titles of Skyfaring give the reader a good understanding of the scope of the book: Lift; Plane; Wayfinding; Machine; Air; Water; Encounters; Night; and Return. Taken as a whole, they depict all that really happens while passengers struggle to find a comfortable position in their cabin seats. Vanhoenacker spices his account with insights on air travel history, geography, weather, family left behind, and the science that has brought about today’s relative safety and mundaneness of defying Earth’s gravity.

Air travel has become so commonplace and regimented that, for most frequent flyers, it has been drained of its intrinsic marvel. Just one hundred years ago, the rich members of society would have paid a king’s ransom to experience what we now take for granted. Thanks to Mark Vanhoenacker, I’ve been reintroduced to the miraculous aspects of the act of boarding a plane and traversing the globe. Jaded passengers, who all too often focus on the uncomfortable aspects of air travel, should gain a renewed appreciation by reading this book. He eloquently shows that what we grudgingly “endure” come travel day is a special experience that pays dividends exceeding the ticket price.

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