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Humor: The joys of air travel

Sixteen time zones

This is not my story.

Yet, it is a story that illustrates modern space and time considerations that were not relevant just fifty years ago, coupled with social issues that have had relevance through time immemorial. It is also a story of extreme mental stress.

The location: a vast area of the world covering sixteen times zones between Tokyo, Japan, and Brussels, Belgium, but the crucial focus is on a certain terminal in Heathrow Airport, England.

The time: getting ever later for a vital appointment.

It had been a forward-looking honeymoon when my wife-to-be, Emmy, joined me on a trip to the Orient, specifically for two scientific conferences in Japan. I arranged for her to fly in Business Class on my airline mileage credit and for that reason, she had to fly United Airlines from Brussels to San Francisco, where we met, and then onwards to Osaka.

It was the longer way sixteen time zones around two thirds of the globe while passing around the globe the other way would have taken half the time. However, to travel together for half the trip, we would meet in San Francisco and that gave Emmy the longer journey.

Fifty years ago, the journey would have been a lengthy adventure including an ocean liner, a railway and yet another ocean liner. Crossing the Atlantic would have taken five days. Crossing the United States to San Francisco would have taken three days. Crossing the Pacific would have taken another two weeks. Now, in the reclined atmosphere of Business Class air with music, food, and good conversation the whole thing took less than two days ignoring, of course, the time zones passing forward as time changed backward. Time had very little meaning other than what one’s watch registered when one got off the plane.

Space too had changed in fifty years. Previously the liner would have plodded through the best weather that could be found across the Atlantic and the train would have chugged and rattled over hard rails through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to Chicago, following the last century’s immigration paths before contemplating the long Western journey to Colorado and through passes in the Rockies and the Sierras to California. Nowadays, the plane flew great-circle routes across the ocean as it curved towards Washington, and then onwards above the cloud covering an invisible earth to San Francisco and, finally, a further great-circle route up around Alaska to Asia, hardly passing over the ocean. These