As we near the year-end, a fairly typical professional reflection may include the number of business trips and particularly flights we have accumulated during the year. If you’re really lucky, a further flight or three may await for travelling home for the holidays!
I write this article on my final business flight of the year, a short Lufthansa jaunt across the Alps from Frankfurt to Barcelona, while reflecting on a busy London Heathrow trip last week. I’ve done something for the first time this year (and indeed in recent memory) on the Frankfurt flights as a result of something I witnessed on the way to Heathrow.
I was vaguely aware of my row companions when I sat down, but really started to pay attention when we were nearing the end of our taxi and getting ready for takeoff. The young brother and sister were glued to the window and talking excitedly to their mother as we pulled on to the takeoff runway. They hushed as we monetarily paused and then squealed with delight as we hurtled along the tarmac. Their enthusiasm was contagious. I found myself being swept along in their joy as we reached takeoff speed and became airborne, the first time (as I enquired a few minutes later to their mother) that these children had left the surface of the earth.
There can be a tremendous utility associated with air travel. I have generally enjoyed quality thinking and productive time while mobile on any form of transport and particularly enjoy 2-3 hour flights in Europe and 6 hour flights to the Middle East. The amount of quality work I can complete in even a 2-hour flight, without any distraction, can shame many of my in-office days of much longer duration. It is just one reason why the current trend of bringing complete connectivity to air travel depresses me. As developed by Cal Newport in his book of this year, how may you create the conditions for deep work in a world where a human being’s attention span has been found to be one second less than the 9 seconds of a goldfish?
So what are your own habits and behaviours regarding air travel? Survey research from qz.com has found that the more people fly, the more they prefer the aisle seat while The Economist recently commented that the aisle seat was for cynics and the window seat for dreamers. For the “cynics” there is of course the added benefit of quick access to the loo and the chance of a quick escape after arrival in an age of over-stuffed overhead luggage compartments.
But shouldn’t we put that never-ending quest for optimisation to one side now and again? And fill ourselves with the child-like wonder of accelerating 0-180mph in 10 seconds, propelling 300 metric tons of engineered marvel into the air before cruising at 37,000 feet and over 500mph. No matter how many times you’ve done it, I challenge you to try and capture the thrill of that first-time experience. It may come easier than you might expect.
For all the exotic destinations that the professional class visits on a continual basis it is often the case that we see only the inside of a car, office building, and hotel room. Staring out the window and absorbing your new environment may help you more fully enjoy your travel as well as make it distinct from the countless others you experience.
On my Frankfurt trip I gladly traded easier access to the loo and 10 minutes longer to disembark the plane for an unforgettable view of Mont Blanc on a bright blue December morning and Bavarian hamlets caught in a winter fog before returning to the splendour that is Barcelona at night, shimmering on the Mediterranean. We’ve been inundated with mindfulness advice the past few years and seen how that has extended to mindful eating, breathing and countless other daily actions. Maybe as we get to the end of another busy professional year you should give mindful flying a go. And choose the window seat. You may never go back. Merry Christmas and a very happy, healthy, and successful 2017.
About the Author
Steven P. MacGregor is Founder of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] and author of Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015) Dr. MacGregor has delivered over 1000 sessions the past 5 years in executive health and behavior change for clients including Telefónica, Danone, IESE, IMD, and the BBC. He holds a PhD in Engineering Design Management and has been a visiting researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon. His executive education teaching is informed by academic interest in sustainability and design and he is an article reviewer for, among others, Industry and Innovation, Journal of Engineering Design, and the International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation.