I Am Disinterested in Airplanes

I am distinterested in airplanes. I have some interest in this.

In his Critique of Judgment, Kant claims disinterest is necessary to aesthetics. Maybe so. In order to experience art, says Kant, we must be disinterested in art. We must not need art to eat, or to breathe, or to survive. We must be detached.

Airplanes detach us. Airplanes fly us over those places where human density is lowest. And whatever the average human density is in the middle of nowhere, airplanes lower it further by transporting us miles above.

Almost certainly, in any accurately drawn probability map of humanity, airplane passengers cease to exist. And then they land.

Here’s the story:  

The eastern approach to Moisant Field, now Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, takes the plane over New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain in a leisurely arc that eventually parallels, on the left, a strip of I-10. You can see the headlights of cars traveling towards New Orleans, south from Baton Rouge. Everything else on this final approach, on both sides of the plane, is marshland.

Late-night flights into New Orleans are not crowded. You claim your own row soon after takeoff. There are scattered lights, like distant beacons at sea, someone reading a magazine, someone using a laptop, but the cabin remains dark.

You become aware of the approach into New Orleans by a change in the pitch of the engines. The stewardess makes a perfunctory check of the cabin.

Everything outside the window is equally black. You can best judge height and distance with reference to cars on the illuminated highway below. Sometimes you can make out silhouettes of drivers.

There is a very sharp line of demarcation between city and swamp. On one side, at one moment, is brackish bayou; on the other side, at the next moment, are liquor stores and truck stops, the brightly lit municipal tax boundaries of Kenner.

The plane touches down. With no late-night traffic on the runway, the plane taxis in a bee line to the gate.

The cabin lights come on; cell phones flash and buzz.

There is no problem getting your bag from the overhead compartment, if you even bothered putting it there. No rubbing of elbows with other passengers, no rush.

The terminal is cold and cavernous and empty. You make a slight detour around a janitor waxing, intent on the balance of his waxer. You pass a seated security guard reading a paperback.

There is sound, some sort of 1950s jazz piped through tinny speakers.

You walk past rows of empty plastic seats and shuttered restaurants and vacant ticket counters. Down an escalator, alongside shiny silver posts tethered with blue ropes, through sliding doors, into thick humidity.  

The music is gone; the airplane passengers scatter. The clacking of wheeled luggage echoes and fades in the concrete parking garage.  

When you reach your car, it is your same car. The radio in your car plays the same music, with the same announcers, with the same commercials. The drive in your car back to your house is the same drive, through the same streets, through the same traffic.  

Perhaps there are airplane passengers above you, judging the height and distance of their descent according to your movement.  

It’s not much of a story after that.


David Myers is a professor at Loyola University New Orleans, where he reads and writes about games and play, mostly.

Categories: Airports, Airplanes, Features

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