It’s 06.20 on a Friday morning in early September. I’ve been up for two hours. I should have boarded my flight from Geneva to London City Airport fifteen minutes ago but I’m delayed by “Adverse weather conditions in London”. This means that London City Airport is shrouded in fog and planes can’t land because ground traffic is still directed visually from a control tower. Until the fog lifts, I’m stuck in Geneva.
As I sit drinking ok coffee from a disposable cup and eating croissant that any French-speaking country should be ashamed to serve, I find myself wondering why I do this to myself.
I’m a consultant. Travelling to foreign cities for work is part of my normal weekly routine. I often spend upwards of 120 nights a year in a hotel. If I have the option to bring that number down by travelling the same day, then I take it. From Geneva, if I take the first flight out, I can be in most of the big cities in time for a 10.00 meeting. When I travel to the City in London, the one hour time difference works in my favour and I can be in the office by 09.00. Of course, I still need to do a full working day, so I get the last flight back. I live an hour from the airport so I typically leave home between 04.00 and 05.00 and get back between 21.30 and 23.00. Some how, over the years, this has become my version of normal.
Sitting here this morning, with the sky just starting to turn from black to purple, it seems insane. I should have gotten a later plane. I should have done the whole thing by video conference. I should be doing a different kind of job. I should, for once, lead a normal life.
Except my life is normal. I am far from alone in the airport. At 05.30 this Friday morning, the queue of people at security was so long that it took twenty minutes to get through, even though the system here is very efficient. There are droves and droves of us. A small of army of people travelling to meet other people to get business done. When I started doing this, way back in the last century, most of these people would have been consultants. Now, any senior manager in a global multi-national is likely to find themselves at an airport several times a month. Changing jobs from consultant to client might reduce the frequency of my travel but the same “see you at the airport at 06.30” mindset still applies. At the end of the business day, when I’m in the airport lounge in Munich or Frankfurt or Paris, I meet clients, past and present, waiting like me, for the last flight back. We talk business. We send emails. We call people to arrange the next working day. We never just sit, staring into space and let ourselves ask the question, “Is this how I want my life to be?”
Today, I find myself looking forward to my final Last Flight Back. I want to bring this insanity to an end. If I fly to a foreign city I want to do it for fun and I want to fly out mid-morning and arrive in time for lunch at a favourite restaurant. If I get up before dawn I want it to be because I want to watch the sun rise over the mountains. I want to be walking with a dog at my side, meeting my wife for breakfast in a patisserie that makes croissants that are crisp on the tooth and melt in the mouth and make me want more, not less. In the evening, I want to sit on my balcony, staring into space and telling myself, “This is how I want my life to be.” After smiling for a moment at my good fortune, I would exchange a glance with my dog that means “what next?” and we would both seek out my wife to find the answer.
It’s a nice thought.
But back to reality. I should have had an update on the flight status fifteen minutes ago. I have details to check and people to call and emails to write. A few minutes from now, my mind will be totally occupied with how I get everything done even though I’m likely to be a few hours late. That will continue until I get home late tonight, too much in need of sleep to think about anything at all. And that is how this insanity sustains itself.
It’s the weekend tomorrow. Maybe I can put some time aside and start to plan how I bring about that final “Last Flight Back”.