Why do business people moan about flying, asks Winston Fletcher. Cocooned from crises, e-mail and the phone, he finds it a perfect way to recharge his batteries.
Why do business people bellyache about flying? I love it. At least, I love flying in modest comfort, frequently but not too frequently. Flying incessantly, as some globetrotters do, must be as much fun as going for a spin in a traffic jam. But taken in moderation, flights on the world's best airlines are mostly bliss. So why the grumbles?
Maybe it's not as healthy as a gym workout nor as satisfying as pulling off a dazzling deal. But flying provides a perfect opportunity for managers to recharge their batteries (as long as they don't recharge their glasses too zealously in-flight) and a change from the daily routine that's as good as a rest - and usually includes one. You can put your feet up and let your hair down. Compared with the office cauldron, flying is cool, calm and quiescent.
But first what about the fear factor: pterophobia? Aviation physician Alan Roscoe believes the majority of fliers suffer from pterophobia, though most also have a phobia about admitting it, not to mention pronouncing it.
In a Swedish study, 25% of business passengers confessed to it but when the researchers deviously asked the respondents not about themselves but about other people, the figure doubled.
A fear that's irrational
We know pterophobia is irrational. We know the only safer means of travel is crawling on all fours, which is a slow way to get to Los Angeles. If you took a scheduled flight every day, the odds are that it would take 4,000 years before you hit some, probably minor, accident - and you would still have a 50-50 chance of survival. So banish your pterophobia. I have - I think.
The next big bugbear is airports. About 600 million people will pass through the world's airports this year but, contrary to your worst forebodings, they won't all be in front of you at the check-in. Despite the crowds, I still find airports romantic. I gaze at the indicators and dream of leaping quixotically on to the next flight to somewhere carefree and cloudless.
Then I board my plane to Manchester.
Moreover, airports have been much improved by those havens of solace, executive lounges. With a suitably coloured plastic card or a business class ticket, you can escape the hustle and bustle, unwind, read the papers and down free potions by the plethora. The lounges are normally oases of peace and tranquillity - though when they're overcrowded, they're purgatory.
Hell hath no fury like a business bigwig cheated of his perks.
Sadly, unless you smoke and/or drink gluttonously, the thrill of duty-free shopping quickly palls. It's due to be stopped next year anyway but, in the meantime, not going on a duty-free spending spree is actually a generous gesture to the airlines. If everyone on a 747 took up their maximum allowance, the additional weight would be 5,000 lbs - equivalent to 34 passengers, who presumably would then have to deplane.
In-flight, the pampering really starts. You can meditate on the metaphysical meaning of life, cosseted with free bevvies, a choice of movies, magazines to read, music to listen to, comedians to giggle at - or tilt yourself back for a kip. You can plough through your paperwork, play with your laptop, concentrate on intractable problems, or just read a novel. You are cocooned from crises, from e-mails and from that nauseous instrument of torture, the telephone. Right now, some batty boffin is doubtless inventing a mobile that will take calls in flight. He must be stopped.
Flying solo - do not disturb
All of which presumes you are travelling alone. This will naturally preclude you from indulging in that mythically voluptuous in-flight entertainment - membership of the mile-high club. It also presumes you do not find yourself seated next to anyone too chummy.
Most passengers are, no doubt, wonderful human beings who love their children, their dogs and their golf clubs, who have minds overflowing with fabulous creative ideas and who lead extraordinarily amusing lives.
I just don't want to hear about them. For me, flying is a solitary activity.
You may disagree. In which case, I hope I never sit next to you.
Most frequent fliers have strong views on which airlines provide the finest food, and one airline or another is annually voted best nosherie in the sky. I find such comparisons fruitless. All top airlines provide tucker that is normally edible and occasionally execrable. If some airlines' grub is consistently superior, my taste buds have so far failed to detect it.
Why great chefs append their names to airline food - however much they are paid - is an enigma. The food is usually prepared 24 hours in advance, then reheated or finished in transit. Things were different once upon a time. The chef on the Hindenburg had under-chefs, creating gourmet extravaganzas to be served in the 50-ft dining room. There aren't a lot of 50-ft dining rooms on scheduled flights today.
Pay up front for pleasure
Crossing the Atlantic on business some years ago, I stingily put my son in economy class while I luxuriated up-front. Somehow he Houdini'd his way past the not-quite-iron curtains. 'Know how much you're paying for a few hours' trivial extra comfort?' he asked, aghast. 'Nearly £1,000.'
I half agree that that's disgusting, whoever is footing the bill. But the extra cost turns air travel from a chore into a pleasure. When I settle into my snug flying armchair and look forward to a period of unruffled repose, I am suffused with gentle euphoria. That's worth a small fortune.
Despite video-conferencing, the internet, and all the cornucopia of enhanced telecommunications, flying is inevitable.
Why not tip back and enjoy it?