Friday, 17 February 2012

Frequent Flyer

Should the people of Scotland ever gain independence and feel like using the opportunity to try a new form of government, they will surely be looking around at functioning societies and asking themselves what works.  After rejecting democracy, theocracy and dictatorship, amongst others, they could do much worse than model themselves on the most highly evolved and efficient of systems – the international flight.  I fly fairly regularly and the flight as a microcosm of a peaceful and fully functioning society is striking and could surely be scaled up?

The pilot is unquestionably the premier; his (for, just as in society, those at the top are usually men) perfectly pressed uniform hinting at familial support and strength, his purposeful stride through the airport and cordial greeting of those whom he passes is more than a little reminiscent of an electioneering politician, entitlement reinforced with every barrier swept through and every queue bypassed.  Benignly authoritative, we hang on his every word unquestioningly, trusting in the belief that everything he does is in our best interests.  He is in control of our most basic behaviours, controlling when we stand up and sit down, when we eat, when we pee, when we unshackle ourselves and we can talk to the outside world.  The only thing he actually has little control over is when we leave and when we arrive – the shadowy, unseen figures in ‘Air Traffic Control’ pulling the strings here – having more control over the journey than the destination.

Cabin Crew – the public face of the flight – provide our best clue about the level of development of the culture.  Are they still in the garish fleece wearing early stages or have they progressed to tailoring?  Do the smiles remain intact at all times or does the occasionally observed tut or eye-roll hint at the maturity yet to occur?  Like local councillors their role is ambiguous – is it to serve or to lead?  Arguably it’s both – when times are good, servitude is the norm, smiles and neck scarves easing our passage through life’s mundanity.  In times of turbulence, instinctive leadership is required for the proletariat’s very survival may depend on it.

And then there are the passengers.  Make no mistake though, the hierarchy does not flatten out here.  Those with more money exist in a cosseted world of free alcohol, linen napery and wiggle room, whilst the masses fidget uncomfortably in the back.  Here too, technology has wrought a divide between not the haves and have-nots but rather the knows and know-nots.  Premium economy, on-line check in (with its access to plum seats to those know which they are and who have an assistant poised to select them the minute the facility opens) and pay-per-use lounges have widened the gap between those at the top of the economy pile and those at the bottom.  These ‘haut-vol’ can be identified amongst their less experienced counterparts in myriad subtle ways.  Is that person staying seated in the boarding lounge until the queue has dwindled to almost nothing?  Do they remove their shoes immediately upon seating?  Are they studiously ignoring the safety demonstration?  Yes, yes and yes?  You are looking at a haut-vol the social climbers of the aviation community.

Clearly it is not these groups alone that keep the flight smooth.  An army of ground staff, baggage handlers, mechanics and the like are required for the very existence of our airborne world.  On occasion they may get invited to participate in the society which they make possible but more often than not they are overlooked – invisible but indispensable.

There are lessons to be learned from this organisation; the importance of understanding ones own role and how it must interact with others, the importance of the possibility of social mobility and the supreme significance of mutual recognition.  Go on Scotland – embrace fly-ocracy!