Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

What if airplanes ceased to exist?

The skies over northwestern Europe are largely free of airplanes these days, thanks to the volcano. I remember how strange it was in New York City on the days immediately following 9/11, when you neither saw nor heard aircraft, except for the occasional military plane. Alain de Botton, recently writer-in-residence at London Heathrow, imagines what life would be like if we no longer had airplanes. Excerpt:

In a future world without aeroplanes, children would gather at the feet of old men, and hear extraordinary tales of a mythic time when vast and complicated machines the size of several houses used to take to the skies and fly high over the Himalayas and the Tasman Sea.
The wise elders would explain that inside the aircraft, passengers, who had only paid the price of a few books for the privilege, would impatiently and ungratefully shut their window blinds to the views, would sit in silence next to strangers while watching films about love and friendship – and would complain that the food in miniature plastic beakers before them was not quite as tasty as the sort they could prepare in their own kitchens.
The elders would add that the skies, now undisturbed except by the meandering progress of bees and sparrows, had once thundered to the sound of airborne leviathans, that entire swathes of Britain’s cities had been disturbed by their progress.


The whole thing is a delightful and kind of eerie read — eerie, because to follow this line of thought is to confront how air travel has profoundly changed the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world — and not always for the better. Over to you, Front Porchers.

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posted April 18, 2010 at 11:31 pm

title should be:
When Airplanes Cease To Exist
and yes, it is eerie to follow this line of thought,
the familiar one where there will be no plentiful cheap energy sources
(oil, nat gas, coal, uranium) within 100 years.
This of course will mean the end of mass production of most all high tech and medium tech thingies.
so, as the centuries go by, air travel will go from rare to nonexistent.
yes, these decades of ours will become legendary.
flight faith hope love joy peace to all…

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Melanie S.

posted April 19, 2010 at 12:22 am

This article is dreadfully vague and could be expounded upon. It implies that airplanes disappearing forever wouldn’t be such a terrible thing because of how it has negatively affected humanity, but declines to explain what’s so bad about them. Air travel has greatly enhanced commerce and thus everyone’s standard of living, to the point that even the poor in industrialized nations live more comfortably than they ever have. It has enabled swift charitable responses to devastating calamities, and helps to keep families who live thousands of miles apart connected. Surely Christ would have approved of all these things. But like all technology, airplanes are powerful tools with the potential for great good or ill. Some people will inevitably wind up using them to their detriment, but the blame for that rests squarely on their own shoulders. No matter how far technology progresses, it cannot fix human nature. I can coldly ignore my neighbors without the help of an iPad, or be a rude, arrogant boor without the assistance of the Internet. These technologies merely highlight what we sinful humans have been doing for millennia, and that is the true complaint of anyone who complains about the social effects of progress.

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Jan Hus

posted April 19, 2010 at 12:33 am

I won’t miss “airplanes” as long as we can still travel by “aeroplane”. I also prefer “tyre” to “tire”.

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posted April 19, 2010 at 12:51 am

If airplanes ceased to exist, Al Gore’s hypocrisy would be instantly reduced by half.

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posted April 19, 2010 at 1:53 am

That was an interesting article. I doubt all air travel will end when fuel prices become prohibitively high – it will just be very much less frequent, the shorter continental hops will probably cease to exist (but we do have trains) and transcontinental flights will be expensive.
The ironic thing is – I have read that decreased air traffic in the short run actually makes temperatures rise – something about the vapor trails. We sure could use a bit of warming here in the northeast – it has been chilly!
Perhaps without the convenience of air travel – people won’t live so far from family.

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posted April 19, 2010 at 4:09 am

The current North America to Europe (by ship) record is 58 hours and 34 minutes. A month to Sydney is not gonna happen.
Rail travel would experience a renaissance with bullet trains linking continents (a rail tunnel under and/or bridge above the Bering straits is technically feasible right now, just show me the money). So would helium-filled airships. All of these are more elegant, experience-rich ways to travel, but at quite a bit more than a camel’s pace.
I can hardly wait.

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posted April 19, 2010 at 4:33 am

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log ?0.3010 ?0.47710.48 ?0.6990 ?0.8451 .85
root ?1.414 1.41 ?1.732 1.73? 2.236 2.24? 2.646
=>?3.16 ??Q’ ???1.34

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posted April 19, 2010 at 5:58 am

I’m stuck in Japan, unable to fly back to England, and with my flight postponed for a week, except that the forecasts suggest that new ash might have spread by then.
I’m actually starting to toy with the idea of getting the train to Niigata, the ferry to Vladivostok, and then the train to the village where I live. Either that or not going back at all. I think super-fast trains would be built across Siberia as soon as they became economically viable.

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posted April 19, 2010 at 6:01 am

The post above is by someone using the name “Hail the Western Paradise World of the Amida Buddha”. Anyone know enough Chinese to read it all, and trying to work out why it was posted here?

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Roland de Chanson

posted April 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

Whilst I sympathise with Rombald’s plight, I look back nostalgically to a time when trains and trams did not exist amongst us. Also ferries and other floating contraptions that plough the furrowed spume.
And wasn’t the eponymous Jan Hus thrown into gaol for heretical language?

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Clare Krishan

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:22 am

Here’s video of the Icelandic president making a similar point with — as I understand his more Austrian (economic) sympathies — definite FrontPorch leanings:
“It might be difficult for us in modern society to face the reality that even the combined scientific knowledge of the entire expert community cannot answer that question…(what future effects may be – C.K.) a very important lesson for all of us that the forces of nature are still at work and that they are so formidable that they can bring to a standstill the most advanced economies to a standstill”
N.B. the economies in countries NOT hampered by obligations under EU law are serving their passengers on an ad-hoc risk assessment basis, whereas consumers in “banned” airspace are at the mercy of the non-state actors (eureaucrats) and their computer models… am I the only one to see premonitions of the central banking madness being imposed globally..? Central planning is illogical, irrational, air-headed, not-fit-for-purpose, a bad practice, do I need to go on… ? Soon the national flagship airlines will begin queuing up for “too-big-to-fail” bailouts, just wait… they’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars a day…

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Clare Krishan

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:23 am


posted April 19, 2010 at 10:31 am

Volcanic ash is abrasive stuff and I wouldn’t want to fly through an ash plume in a jet plane. There are plenty of videos online of jet engines going up in smoke or throwing turbine blade when they get unbalanced due to foreign object intake.

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Your Name

posted April 19, 2010 at 11:30 am

What would happen if airplanes cease to exist? About a week before they cease to exist, Warren Buffet and Car Icahn would have bought up all cruise line and railroad stock, and Goldman Sachs would have figured out a way to short airline stock.
Wait a minute- Didn’t Buffet just spend billions buying railroad stock? Hmm

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Chuck Bloom

posted April 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Actually a world without airplanes muight be somewhat delightful – quieter certainly around airport property and the homes nearby. It would spur quicker development of high speed train travel in THIS nation.
I wouldn’t object; take your carry-on fees and shove it!!!!!!

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The Man From K Street

posted April 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Great–now we can get to work developing the obvious answer to jumbo jets: Rigid (aerogel? artificial diamond?) vacuum dirigible airships, with nanotech turbine pumps to keep the vacuum.
I’ll see you all on the observation deck, champagne at the ready.

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posted April 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I’ve never been a fan of air travel. (My ears don’t adjust to altitude, so I spend the whole flight, and some time after landing, with a headache.) That said, quick and easy travel over long distances makes individual lives more interesting and societies more cosmopolitan. If I had never traveled outside my home region, I would be a different (and, I think, lesser) person.
But, then, I’ve spent most of my life without access to the Internet, which is as broadening an influence as travel, albeit a vicarious influence – as are books and films.
Presumably, without air transport we would still have to depend on road, rail and sea travel to distant places, and so would spend more time getting from here to there. There’s a lot to be said for a more leisurely pace of travel – think of cross-country road trips off interstate highways, or of the rail odysseys that Paul Theroux writes about in his fascinating books. Those trips are more about the travel, and the traveling companions, than the destination. The companionship, the shared experience with former strangers, is what’s usually missing in air travel, which, as Alain de Botton observes, is a “bowling alone” experience for most travelers.
The other big consequences of not traveling by air would be a heightened consciousness and knowledge of one’s home region (I know a lot of people who are more familiar with New York, London, Miami or Las Vegas than they are of places an hour’s drive away from their homes); and the downside of that, parochialism. (Show me a xenophobe, and I’ll show you someone who stays close to home.)
Another downside would be lack of regular access to perishable foods from distant places. After just a week of grounded aircraft, there’s a growing shortage of fresh fruits and some vegetables in the British Isles, and growing hardship among the supplying growers in the Mediterranean littoral and Africa.

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Brian Kaller

posted April 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Interesting piece, Rod. I had just written something along the same lines, in the URL above.

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Aircraft Hanger Doors

posted June 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for the nice blog man. I always had the same question in my mind also. Now i came to know that it has a big theory behind itself. Aircraft design has been a topic of keen interest from its nose to its engine. I’ll keep visiting the blog.

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