Take a seat. Perhaps you have to make the awkward shuffle passing in front of aisle passengers to get to your window seat. Perhaps not. In any case, accept that you will be here and nowhere else for nine, maybe twelve, maybe seventeen hours. (Which brings me to say—use the bathroom before you board.)
If you’re already a long-flight connoisseur, you’re wearing something loose and comfortable, ignoring the quips and protests from your inner stylist. No; for once, you might completely forget how you look at all, especially if you’re flying alone. You are not in a country or a city. You are in the extended in-between, somewhere in the middle of two organized societies. Here, you can focus on yourself.
Respond to the last texts. Let your family and friends know where you’ll be. Then tap that lovely airplane mode button. A few minutes later, maybe you refresh your Instagram feed as a force of habit, only to remember there is no internet here. Throughout your flight, you gradually re-learn what your life might have been like if you didn’t have notifications to check every other minute or the option to mindlessly scroll. Maybe there’s news you’re dying to get in touch with—a sports game happening while you fly, a friend’s first date, or whatever’s up with that guy you’ve been texting more and more. Put them to rest. This is voluntary isolation. A tranquil severance that you could choose to be annoyed about or accept as a sort of meditation.
You are the only person that matters right now. In fact, you might be the only person that exists right now. If you try hard enough, you can probably convince yourself that you are the last human alive, and that the silent passengers around you absorbed in themselves or the cabin crew striding up and down the aisles are just robots created to mimic a social experience. So you take up the activities that you can do solely by yourself. Maybe you get hours of pure, focused writing time. Maybe you burn through the last few chapters of that book you never finished. Or you journal; you blog; you finally clean out your phone’s photo album; you draft that email you’ve been putting off so you can send it when you land.
If you have on-flight entertainment, don’t neglect it. Scroll down and lay your eyes on every movie they have before you make a choice. Definitely don’t neglect the kids section, because sometimes, the absolute best thing you can watch on a long flight is The Lion King or Wreck-it Ralph. See, you’re starting to get it now. There are things here for you to enjoy that you didn’t think to enjoy while you were caught up with life. Things are on pause now. Time as you know it doesn’t exist—you might land earlier than when you departed, or find that a whole day has passed—so accept this limbo state of being. There is no schedule to follow. No time when you should be falling asleep or doing work, no need to march to that arbitrary rhythm of life we take up and follow without question. Breakfast is lunch. Dinner is breakfast. Enjoy this.
Make it your mission to listen to your favorite song while you stare out the window like you’re in a music video. Do this when the altitude is high enough and it isn’t too dark outside. Do this even if you have an aisle seat. The clouds stretch in billowing hills, the way they draw heaven in children’s picture books, and you forget that it is but dust and vapor. No; if you were out there right now, it would be like landing on a million pillows. You have risen above the clouds, but somehow you feel no closer to the sky, which stretches impossibly ahead. You haven’t felt so small in so long, and you don’t mean that in a bad way.
Or you ignore everything written above and sleep the hours away.
Finally, once you have exhausted everything there is to do, daydream about your destination. This might mean you read the travel guide for your long-awaited trip and let your heart beat fast. Or it might mean you close your eyes and imagine that home-cooked meal you’ve been missing. In your head, see those sights. Taste those tastes. You’ve appreciated the solitude, but now look forward to being brought back to planet earth and the realm of regular existence. And when you get off, marvel at how amazing it is that you get to live in this world.