It's a little before five pm and I'm sitting in the upper deck of an Air France 747 soon bound for Paris. Part of my mind is thinking about the Trans Atlantic flight that lies ahead of me but mainly I'm wondering what type of people my row-mates are. Specifically, I'm wondering if the fact they are both wearing shorts and tank-tops for a flight between Toronto and Paris on a day when temperatures are below freezing makes them very Canadian or just very crazy.
The man is large and has a tattoo of some sort of motorcycle or perhaps snowmobile logo on his upper arm. The woman is blonde and tan and a bit fidgety. Before they have even sat down, though, they seemed to have charmed all of the more reserved French people sitting across the aisle. Everyone likes it when a guest is enthusiastic about visiting their homes and their enthusiasm is strong enough to be contagious in a way that the CDC might issue an alert if they monitored such things.
Before our flight even takes off, I learn that they had won a free trip to a warm beach resort in the South of France from a radio station. I relaxed a bit when I heard that, happy to hear the people that I would be sharing so small a space for the next six hours were optimistic rather than insane (which hasn't always been the case with people I've sat next to on long flights).
"This plane is really nice," the man states after a flight attendant serves everyone their own small bottles of wine. "We should only fly wherever Air France goes."
I nod my head in agreement. I have never ridden in the upper deck of a 747 before, as lowest price mostly dictates how I travel and the upper floor is usually business or premium class. However, thanks to some tips buried in the forums at FlyerTalk and a little luck, I was directed up a flight of stairs as I got on board. The upper cabin is surprisingly small and spacious and feels like how I imagine air travel to be rather than how it usually is: comfortable, relaxed, and modern rather than cramped and hassled. Because of the curve of the cabin walls there is even an extra eight inches of space between my window seat and the window that has been fitted with an extra shelf.
Our row is three back from the cockpit door and being that far forward makes the flight especially quiet. The huge power and thrust of the engines clearly comes from behind us and it reminds me of the large car ferries I regularly rode on when I lived on an island, a fast ship sailing through the sky. On a map, I imagine, the night ahead of us is a slow moving black glacier that slowly sweeps across the globe. We will cross from one side of night somewhere over eastern Canada and arrive on the far shore of day near Paris. The night ahead of us is not so much a matter of time but a matter of distance, something to be crossed.
The flight between Toronto and Paris takes about six hours and it crosses the night in much the same way it crosses the ocean: too quickly for the body but not fast enough for mind. Or maybe that's backwards. At any rate, one minute you're having dinner as the sun sets outside, eying the in-flight movie and being slightly amazed that Air France shows nudity, and the next moment your being served breakfast while the sun rises and you're pretty sure - but not positive - that the same movie is still playing. Your mind feels like a two wheel drive car churning through mud, for all of the work and energy involved, there should be more forward motion. The farther my body travels in the plane, the farther it feels like my mind falls behind.
"I can't wait to land and smoke," says the women sitting next to me as the sky outside lightens and night falls further and further behind us. She starts to fidget with the seat back tray.
"Oh, but there is no smoking in Charles du Gaul," says a french lady sitting across the aisle. "You must go outside."
"There's no smoking sections at all?" the woman asks, her voice taking on the troubled note of someone who just had their credit card denied while paying for dinner at a fancy restaurant.
"No, none," the French lady replies with a sympathetic smile.
"Oh, I hope we land soon."
And, for the first flight in a long time, I hope we don't. Instead, as I sit back in my chair and watch the clouds go by, I realize that I'm happy in just the most basic act of travel: that of going forward. Of course, I just hope my mind catches up.