What seemed like an age of infinite possibility is starting to look much more fragile.
By Henry Mance
You can find anything in Heathrow airport if you walk far enough. Near Terminal 2, past the bus station, under a flyover, you can even find God.
The airport chapel is a windowless stone bunker, located down a flight of stairs. Here, at Monday lunchtime, I joined a dozen airport employees for a Catholic mass. It was a surprisingly tender, surreal service, which ended with an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace”. On the way out, I considered buying a postcard of St Christopher, patron saint of travellers.
Most air passengers see no need for such rituals. For decades, crossing continents hasn’t been an act of faith; it has been a fact of life. Flying seems so simple that even a small delay can lead us to rage on social media. It is so mundane that you can partly do it yourself: check yourself in, put your own labels on your bag, pick your own seat on the plane.
“Don’t tell me this isn’t an age of miracles. Don’t tell me we can’t be everywhere at once,” says George Clooney in the film Up in the Air. Clooney’s character is a company man who dreams of reaching 10m air miles and excels at navigating airport security.
For mere mortals too, travelling has become just a series of hacks. We started by never changing money at the airport (Heathrow’s rates are about 20 per cent from reality) and took it from there. People stopped offering rounds of applause when the plane landed safely, or even expressing wonder at the ability to fly to Hong Kong for a wedding weekend.
And then came coronavirus.