Air Solitude

In-flight internet services are about to enter  Indonesian airspace. It’s goodbye air solitude and  hello air Neighbourhood

LEAVING JAKARTA by plane is always a pleasure. Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t because I dislike the city or its citizens. It’s more that planes offer solitude and phones are thankfully disconnected from the mobile networks for a few hours. It also means not having to check your emails until you’re off the plane. Bliss.

Having said that, in general, I find the experience of air travel unpleasant. The concept of queuing is alien to most Indonesians, so you often have to fight your way around the airport. The idea of packing light is also not something that most Indonesians are very familiar with. So if you’re behind a family who have 100 carry-on bags with them, then it takes at least half an hour as you wait for them to finally be seated.

Most aeroplane food is also pretty inedible here, and if you add limited legroom, non-reclining seats, claustrophobic toilets, smelly neighbouring passengers and grumpy cabin crew into the equation, it really makes for an experience that borders on the unbearable. And yet despite all of this, air travel also means being left alone. And I enjoy being left alone.

A few issues back, I stated that being left in peace is something of a luxury these days and is becoming increasingly difficult as our wired world binds us ever tighter into a shell of electromagnetic communications. But being on a plane means not having to communicate with anyone, including the passenger next to you. It’s perfectly fine to completely ignore the person sitting beside you and it’s perfectly fine to stare into nothingness with your ears gleefully plugged with noise-damping ear buds. It’s also nice to pretend that you don’t own a mobile phone or have an email address, or that the internet even exists at all.

Unfortunately, this Zen-like respite from the communications revolution is about to come to an end, as Garuda Indonesia has just announced that the company will begin equipping its aircraft with in-flight internet access from the end of this year.

To be fair, in-flight internet is no longer something new. In May of 2004, Lufthansa’s long-haul flights between Munich and Los Angeles went online. And in 2009, as many as seven US airlines followed suit. Singapore airlines also started providing in-flight internet services on their aircraft last year. This facility includes the ability to send and receive text messages, as do the services that are currently being offered by Emirates Airlines.

I understand that some people need to check their emails once or twice during a 12-hour cross-continental flight, as they have important business to attend to. Moreover, the leader of a nation should probably never be out of reach of a connected mobile phone. I mean, what if someone suddenly decides to nuke his or her country, right?

Recently, Jesse Taylor Ferguson – the guy who plays the boyfriend of the guy who clown sleeps in “Modern Family” – was on a plane and bored. So he invited his 400,000 Twitter followers to send him questions, promising that he would answer them all, which he indeed did. I have to admit that his Tweets were quite entertaining to read. But let’s face it, Facebook, Twitter, Path, Instagram, Yahoo Messenger, Skype, etc are going to be the main beneficiaries of these new in-flight internet services, and I for one would certainly find it annoying if the passenger next to me suddenly opened his laptop and started Skype-conferencing a colleague back at the office, which was located in the city the plane had just taken off from barely ten minutes earlier. I would be even more annoyed if it was a teenage girl Skyping a friend to gossip about her ex.

Progress is indeed inevitable, but I never actually thought that the day would come when I had to read and reply to work-related emails on a plane from Jakarta to Bali. Soon, they will allow you to turn your mobile phone on too I guess, but is being able to continuously receive information a real sign of progress? Is it really information that we seek at all times or is it just our need to continuously seek the approval of others?

Written by Unggul Hermanto
Category: Afterthought | SubCategory: Afterthought | Issue: July 2012
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