22 January 2017

22 January 1970

Forty seven years ago, on 22 January 1970, a milestone in commercial aviation was achieved when a Boeing 747 completed its first revenue flight for its first customer, Pan American World Airways. The arrival of the newly crowned "Queen of the Skies," as she will forever be remembered, at London Heathrow opened up the world to the masses in a way that could not have been anticipated. Suddenly, hundreds of people at once could traverse the globe in a matter of hours. Overnight, the world became a much smaller place.

As a certified airline dork, Pan Am aficionado, and world traveler, this is a special day. My first trans-Atlantic flight took place fourteen years after that first commercial flight and it was between those same two cities - New York JFK and London Heathrow - on a Pan Am 747 that looked every day of its fourteen years. I did not sleep a wink on that flight, as I wanted to take in every second on board the legendary Queen. Sure, she looked like she'd been rode hard and put away wet, but this was Pan Am on one its marquee routes. Sitting in Economy that night, I was a few rows back from the vaunted Clipper Class and I remember seeing through the occasional break in the red curtain that divided our cabins, the passengers being served multi-course meals, reclining back in their seats further than I thought possible, and saying to myself, "One day I'll travel that way."

I've been very fortunate to travel that way many times ever since. I've flown in the very front of that plane, in its upper deck, and even in a middle seat in the very last row (let's never, ever, ever speak of that atrocity again). The 747 made the world smaller for me. She has carried me to places like this:

London, Frankfurt, Chennai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Manila, Sydney, Tokyo,
Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City

As she carried me to all those places, I could not have imagined all the things that I would learn and experience. When I disembarked from that first transatlantic journey at 17, I had no idea that London would show me what a truly global city it is. In Tokyo, I discovered tastes that I never dreamed would cross my palette. In Manila, I discovered a people so full of kindness that I remember the lessons they taught me to this day. In Hong Kong, I found that a city truly is a living thing and there is nothing as vibrant as that great city. In Chennai, I discovered a people so layered in mystery and beauty that I still have difficulty articulating the experience to this day. In Sydney, I reveled in meat pies and did so with some of the friendliest, most adventerous people I've ever known. As I've traveled the world on the 747, I discovered a beautiful, diverse world full of stunning vistas, amazing cities, and people who prove that we are far more alike than we are different.

That lesson, that we are far more alike than we are different, is one I am trying hard to remember as my own country is as polarized as it has ever been. It's amazing what a smile and a kind gesture can bring you when you are in another country and not able to speak the same language. It's been incredible to see what happens when you express a bit of interest in someone else's culture when traveling. Some of the most amazing meals of my life have happened by asking simple questions in a local market. Language and culture barriers collapse over the joy of shared meals. 

I am forever grateful for the experiences I've had in this world, many of which were as a result of a flight on a 747. The airplane was, and is, amazing, but its the people in those places that plane carried me that have enriched my life. They taught me that our differences aren't so vast and that this world is  a gift.

I need to remember that lesson right now and apply it to my fellow countrymen. Something tells me we're going to need to remember that something awful in the coming months and years.

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