Why I Love Flying In The “Developing World”

Filed Under: Travel

Even though I’ve flown over four million miles and have taken thousands of flights, I’m always still in awe by aviation. It’s a miracle to me. I don’t care what time of day it is or how tired I am, my eyes are always glued to the window during takeoff and landing.

Royal-Bhutan-Airlines - 25

Understandably people in the U.S. are largely unfazed by flying, given how commonplace it is. So many people choose to leave their window blinds closed for takeoff, landing, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets, which I view as such a lost opportunity.

And that brings me to the past two flights I’ve taken, which remind me of how special aviation still is in other parts of the world — and that’s refreshing.

A couple of days ago I flew Drukair from Paro to Dhaka. Other than the two flight attendants, there were no women on the plane, and no other white people — best I could tell (based on the cabin-wide conversation), literally everyone onboard was from Bangladesh. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting aviation is special because there were no women on the flight, but rather am trying to set the scene. 😉

What I loved was that the other passengers were even more in love with flying than I am. For the entire hour-long flight, everyone’s eyes were glued to the window, whether they were seated in the aisle or window seat.

Royal-Bhutan-Airlines - 35

I was in the window seat on this flight, and Ford was in the aisle. While the views were incredible shortly after takeoff, about 30 minutes into the flight Ford said to me “everyone is looking outside, is there anything to see?”

And there wasn’t — it was just flat, “boring” scenery. But they were still in awe.

There’s another side to that, though. The second we touched down a guy got up and talked on his cell phone, and when the flight attendant requested he sit down, he couldn’t grasp why he had to.

Royal-Bhutan-Airlines - 46

Then we flew Kuwait Airways from Dhaka to Kuwait City. In some ways I find these flights kind of sad, since they’re largely “labor” flights, where they’re exporting labor from Bangladesh to the Gulf countries (where many construction workers are horribly mistreated and subjected to inhumane conditions).

Still, watching everyone in the gate area was a treat. Many people took pictures of the plane, most looked at the plane wide-eyed, etc.

While obviously not as extreme, it made me think back to an Al Jazeera clip I posted last year, about a Pakistani villager who flies for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch:

Villager Flies For The First Time

A Pakistani villager experiences #airports for the first time in our latest film. These are his first impressions.Watch as we document his journey over a course of 18-months: http://bit.ly/1QvQfA4

Posted by Witness – Al Jazeera on Thursday, April 28, 2016

Anyway, I’m not sure what exactly my point here is, other than to say that it’s sometimes refreshing to fly in a part of the world where flying is still special.

In a way it’s good that flying in the U.S. isn’t “special” anymore — it has become so affordable, safe, and accessible that we’re able to explore the world more than ever before.

But to me no amount of flying will cause me to keep a window shade closed for takeoff or landing.

  1. There’s no need for quotations around “developing world,” Ben. 🙂 And you’re right. Flying in the US and Europe have become so commonplace that it’s no longer special. For many, it’s simply become a bus with wings.

    Even flying daytime flights over many US national parks or beautiful mountain ranges, people will just shut their window blinds and watch films or TV shows on their iPad or laptop. “Sad!”

  2. Keeping the shades open during takeoff and landing is also a safety item for many non USA-based airlines.

  3. Agreed. Always told you.

    Go backpacking, stay in hostels. You will meet fun people. give it a try

  4. Hi Ben,
    I’m an avid reader of your blog.

    For many of “these” people this is the first flight they have taken in their lives and are fascinated being in it. They take it alone and don’t know the procedures. How was your first flight experience all alone? Were you fascinated, excited and looking out the window? If no one told you what to do when landing and take off would you know all the rules and regulations.
    I usually enjoy all your posts but for you to emphasise on developing world and labour flights makes it seem that you’re discriminating against the “developing” world.when people in North America mess up with regulations on flights, and thier are daily instances, why don’t you call them out?

    Really surprised with all your travelling you have such a closed mind

  5. On a short haul couple weeks ago I was sitting in aisle. On approach I was straining to take a peek out the window when the gentleman at the window seat says “after 150 flights its all the same.”
    I did not respond that after flying for 50 years each and every take off and approach and everything in between is still a thrill to me.

  6. @KT, I thought you were literally sitting in the aisle rather than sitting in the aisle seat, lol. Had to read the later part to know that you were actually not sitting in the aisle 😉 This reminds me of a recent Pakistan flight that flew more passengers than the seats, and those extra folks had to enjoy their flight standing (or sitting) in aisles.

  7. I’m a development economist, and I’ve often found it strange when people idolize or glorify parts of the developing world. I assure you that everyone on board would much rather be so used to flying that they feel blasé about it, rather than it being what for many might be a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Even if it would make your experience less special.

    That said, I totally understand that the intention of this post is very kind and sweet! Love your blog.

  8. I’ve been on flights in the US where they unironically ask everyone to keep their shades down for the benefit of people watching their TVs.

    As in, “Don’t watch the iridescent sunrise from atop the clouds, from the soaring heights which were the stuff of the ancients’ legends, because the guy behind you is watching a rerun of ‘Mom.'”

    What’s happened to us?

  9. @B (2:51pm) Go dig a hole and bury yourself – count on always finding the jerk in the room!

    @Ben: I am from Bangladesh. Bengalis are notorious for not following standard operating procedures on landing 🙂

  10. @Rose: Reminds me of Calef Brown’s fantastic poem “Television Taxicab”, which is in his amazing children’s book “Flamingos on the Roof”.


    Television taxicab
    What a way to travel!
    You can watch your favorite station
    In Tahiti or Seattle
    What could be more simple
    You can sample every channel
    7, for example, features movies for a fee
    Never mind the passing sights
    There’s nothing much to see


    The irony, of course, is that the page is COVERED with drawings of bizarre, fascinating and incredible things to look at (as the taxi drives through and the passenger is glued to his TV set).

  11. @QR: I think you’re missing the other part to this — why don’t we still marvel at it? We’ve taken travel for granted and no longer appreciate it, which is a shame.

    For me, I still marvel at it all, even though it’s quite routine for me. Then again, I still was quite pleased with my last car as well, 10 years, 225,000 miles later, I still was fascinated and enjoyed driving it. For that matter, I’m still thankful to have running water every morning.

    I think westerners quickly forget or have no clue as to just how privileged they are. I see this especially with millennials who haven’t traveled the world, especially those who have never had to deal with true poverty. When you see another human being, close to your age, being forced to relieve themselves in a storm drain because that’s the only place to go, suddenly (hopefully) things like your number of followers on Facebook don’t seem to matter.

  12. @AlexS — Good points! Totally agree with you. And it goes even beyond millennials (I’m one of them!)—I think this applies to people from all generations who haven’t been fortunate enough to travel the world. It’s so easy to not realize how lucky we are, and to not develop that empathy/awareness.

  13. I love this post. I don’t fly as much as I used to, though I wish I did more. But I LOVE that humans made this happen. It is the most unnatural thing to do, our bodies are physically designed to be on the ground, the atmosphere is designed to keep us here. But science said, meh, let’s fly. I sit at the gate and people watch and couples are bickering, people are bored and complaining, and I’m thinking I”M ABOUT TO SIT IN THE FREAKING SKY!!!!! WHOOO!!!! I will never lose my marvel at human perseverance to see beyond what is obvious.

  14. Great post. After 40 years’ and thousands of take offs and landings, I still get a thrill and marvel at the science that gets us up in the air. My wife just needs wine, a movie and a good sleep in a flat bed on the plane to be happy and does not understand why I read OMAAT daily. We are not all built the same, thankfully.

  15. Nice Post, Ben.
    I agree – it’s great to see the awe and wonder in people’s eye the first time they have a chance to fly. You’ll also understand why many people in developing countries take so many selfies in the shiny mall in the capital – when you visit the villages in the province they are from!
    And it’s great to see you travel more “off the beaten path”. While I of course understand the focus of your blog on high-end air and hotel travel, getting out of the main destinations is a great experience!
    Hope you’ll do more trips like this!

  16. I agree one hundred percent! Even it it’s one AM, I’m still glued to the window. If you see me on a plane, I’m always by the window seat. I love traveling because of the hustle and bustle, it’s always a treat to travel in my opinion and people take it so lightly, it’s not like everyday you’re able to go in the air and see the world from above.. Almost everyone I know takes flying as like “Oh okay, cool..”. I fly more than the average kid at my age, around 3-4 times a year, and it’s always amazing to fly, no matter how routine or how tiring it can be.

    P.S. Yes, I live in the U.S., for anyone wondering, it’s not like I’m poor or whatnot and can’t afford to fly, I do, and I do it as much as my parents let me.

  17. “where many construction workers are horribly mistreated and subjected to inhumane conditions”

    Love your sweeping proclamations.

  18. This is a terrific post. I don’t understand why people are complaining about it; Lucky is by no means discriminating against anyone. It is simply a matter fact that the developing world is at the same time both marvelous and sad: marvelous because you can see in it the wonder of change and improvement working its way through the world, such as through the ‘magic’ of flight, but sad because clearly there is much to be done, and sometimes the improvements can’t come fast enough. Lucky from what I can tell clearly admires the energy of developing word, and is by no means even close to being a ‘slum tourist’.

  19. @AlexS – I find “millennials” (a ridiculous term anyway) to be MUCH more open and knowledgeable about the world than their older counterparts… But there’s a difference between taking things for granted and appreciating that you’re lucky to be able to take them for granted but not displaying it that perhaps you’re glossing over.

    @emercycrite – A sweeping, but irrefutably accurate, statement.

  20. I’m like you Lucky, my face is stuck in the window almost the whole time since my very first flight. Tomorrow I will celebrate 40 years since my first ever flight on a TAP B747-282B reg CS-TFA YYZ-AGP. High school March break school trip to Andalucia. We came back a week later on March 27th, the day of the worst air crash in history in the Canary Islands. Maybe that’s why I have such a fascination with aviation and air crash investigations.

  21. Drives me nuts when people shut their window shades for takeoff/landing. Even if you’ve somehow become desensitized to flying, at the very least, it’s somewhat claustrophobic. It’s equivalent to someone saying “sure, I’d love to live in a house with no windows.” Makes no sense.

  22. I agree Ben!!!!!! So true. Sometimes we just need to stop for a moment and LOOK OUT THE WINDOW and realise how lucky we are to be flying and how beautiful this world is that God created. Love your post!

  23. What do you mean “leave their blinds closed during take off and landing” isn’t that against the rules!?!?

  24. Interesting article and observations. I am strongly of the opinion that many of us who live a middle class lifestyle in the western, developed often forget and take for granted the daily privileges and amenities we enjoy, that much of the world does not have access to. Air travel is without doubt a major one. I am willing to bet my life that barely 15% of the world’s population has ever been on a plane at least once in there entire lives. I am 30 years old and have only traveled to 7 countries, but I consider myself extremely fortunate to even have done that. I met people in rural areas of India and Peru who have never left there villages or hometowns in there entire lives. Sometimes, it helps to step out of our bubble and put things in perspective.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *