Posted by: Korry | November 3, 2011

To Fly. To Serve.

The airline industry is a tough business that can often seem cold and heartless. But then I see an ad like this new one for British Airways that was sent to me by a good friend and I see the business in a completely different light.

Kudos to you, British Airways. I love this ad (even though the MBA in me wonders how effective it will be at selling tickets) because for one minute and thirty seconds, I’m allowed to forget about all the negative parts of aviation–airport security pat downs, bag fees, middle seats that don’t recline, etc.–and remember the romance that this industry had, and to a certain extent, still can have today.

The ad captures the evolution of one company, its branding, its planes and most of all its pilots. From the days when air mail was delivered using aircraft with open air cockpits to the modern times of supersonic flight in the Concorde and the massive Boeing 747, this ad traces the history of aviation as much as it does this company. It is a testimony to the spirit of adventure and the capabilities of man. Who couldn’t get excited about that?

Sure, aviation has changed a tremendous amount since the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, but the premise remains the same: Never say no. Never say it can’t be done. Keep trying. Keep flying. Faster and faster. Further and further. There are no limits. There are dreams to achieve!

Oh, how far we’ve come! Orville Wright made his first flight on December 17, 1903 flying only 120 feet across the sandy beach in North Carolina. Today, almost anyone can purchase a ticket on Singapore Airlines and fly on the world’s longest flight, 9,535 miles from Newark, New Jersey to Singapore without stopping even once!

Where once it was uncharted and dangerous to cross continents or oceans in a plane, now there are hundreds of flights to Europe and back every day. The same is true for flights to Asia and South America and every continent on this planet (Well, I guess the Antarctica service is a little slow to catch on, but who knows, it may be a big seller in a few years!) The bottom line is that our ability to travel the world today is simply unprecedented. There are more flights to more places for less money than ever before. It’s as though the world is shrinking before our very eyes…and we take it very much for granted.

One of my favorite aviation books of all time is a fascinating read by Ernest K. Gann called Fate is the Hunter. In it, Mr. Gann masterfully recounts his airline career from a time when flying was not nearly as safe or routine as it is today, but it sure was romantic. One of the first stories he tells includes a detailed description of the cockpit, the pilots and the way they were interacting while in flight. What has always stuck with me was how similar that cockpit environment is today compared to what it was then. Sure, the planes and instruments are drastically different now, but the pilots are talking the same way and they are doing the same thing they were then–connecting people and places around the globe–in nearly the same way. In my humble opinion, that will never change, and neither will the romanticism of air travel.

Today, when I put on my uniform and head to the airport, I still see the magic of aviation firsthand. It’s in the eyes of a child who visits the flight deck in awe of the many buttons, switches, lights and controls. It’s in the eyes of the foreigner gazing out the window onto the New York City skyline that welcomes them to the United States for the very first time. It’s in the many hugs I see near baggage claim of families being reunited. And it’s in the same mystical feeling I get as I gaze from my flight deck seat down onto the towering Rocky Mountains, the expansive Grand Canyon, the winding Panama Canal, the breathtaking Irish coastline or some magnificent sunset like this.

Thank you British Airways for capturing the essence and excitement of flying. Thank you for building those superhighways in the sky. Thank you for “transforming strange names from tall tales into pictures on postcards home.” Thank you for helping us to remember what aviation used to be like and for letting us dream about what it may become.

And if a simple ad like this can take the hum-drum, day-to-day difficulties inherent in the airline industry and remind us of the possibilities that may come from dreaming bigger, are there aspects of our own hum-drum, day-to-day lives that may be in need of the same spark? Could we be dreaming bigger? And if so, what’s stopping us?


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