VOGUE Australia - - Voyage -

abruptly, space and time con­certi­naed, mak­ing the un­veil more ex­cit­ing. To go full pelt down what looks like a su­per-sized road, then can­tilever into the sky in a softer float is a won­der.

Writ­ers seem to note this po­ten­tial for pro­fun­dity at 39,000 feet. Eli­jah Wolf­son writ­ing for the At­lantic noted height­ened emo­tions in­duced by oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion, or hy­poxia, at high al­ti­tude. “We cry hap­pily when we recog­nise, deep down, that ev­ery connection we make in life could end up sev­ered.” Nathan Heller, writ­ing in the New Yorker, ob­served: “A part of me is sure I’ll die at ev­ery take-off, yet I need to feel that panic and lift or I’m hope­less. Flight is the best me­taphor for writ­ing that I know.”

When I think this way, I in­stantly feel bet­ter. I think of the A380 as a big cruise ship in the sky. It also helps to know that avi­a­tion is on our side in im­prov­ing how we ex­pe­ri­ence flight. Lasers that de­tect clear air tur­bu­lence (CAT), the type that tips over drinks, are be­ing de­vel­oped by Boe­ing to scan 17.5 kilo­me­tres ahead of the air­craft. Qan­tas, in an un­prece­dented part­ner­ship be­tween air­line and sci­ence, is work­ing with the Charles Perkins Cen­tre to mon­i­tor pas­sen­ger re­sponses to long hauls on the route be­tween Perth and Lon­don, in­clud­ing mea­sur­ing blood pres­sure, car­dio-meta­bolic states and cog­ni­tive func­tion.

While not di­rectly aimed at curb­ing the fear of fly­ing, for me, it means the phys­i­cal fac­tors that con­trib­ute to a de­creased abil­ity to deal with anx­i­ety are min­imised. Lead­ing the re­search, Pro­fes­sor Stephen Simp­son, says Qan­tas has worked with the Univer­sity of Syd­ney’s re­search institute to see if changes in diet, reg­u­la­tion in tem­per­a­ture and meal ser­vice times can en­cour­age bet­ter sleep pat­terns. “Body clocks are crit­i­cal in co­or­di­nat­ing phys­i­ol­ogy, and that in­cludes our men­tal state,” he says. “We’ve worked on the tim­ing of when peo­ple are fed, the cabin light­ing shift­ing through­out the flight in wave­length, tem­per­a­tures go­ing down when we’re try­ing to en­cour­age peo­ple to go to sleep, and then ris­ing again to wake peo­ple up.”

With re­sults pend­ing, a bet­ter shot at sleep still means a bet­ter chance at a calm flight when you wake. A 2015 study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science found that a night of sleep­less­ness com­pro­mises the abil­ity of the amyg­dala, the brain’s emo­tion-pro­cess­ing cen­tre, to de­ter­mine what is im­por­tant to worry about and what is not. Re­searchers found the amyg­dala saw ev­ery­thing as im­por­tant, which can trig­ger the adren­a­line-fu­elled phys­i­cal stress re­sponse.

So, those sweaty hands. Now when I feel them com­ing on I think about the mirac­u­lous abil­ity to take to the skies. How jour­nal­ist Laura Smith said that fly­ing was “to in­sist on the ethe­real in the weighted world”. Like any­thing worth do­ing, fly­ing re­wards those who chal­lenge their lim­its. Now, where once I would refuse food for 24 hours and ar­rive drawn and emo­tion­ally spent, I order up big. On the way home from Europe last month I or­dered an over­done dessert. It was on a white table­cloth served by a lovely flight at­ten­dant. I ate the whole thing with tea as the plane softly dipped and lifted on the air­flows and the sun slung it­self lazily over the hori­zon five kilo­me­tres above a bound­less In­dian Ocean.

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