Flights of the imagination and otherwise

Columnist Shannon McKinnon talks about how she could be thinking about you if your plane should fly overhead.

I have decided to end my obsession with flight 8175.

We live beneath the flight path of Air Canada Jazz as it carries passengers from Vancouver to Fort St John approximately five times a day. As you no doubt know, the word ‘Jazz’ and a maple leaf tattooed on the side of the plane come in four different colours.

By the time it arrives over our farm it is only 10 minutes away from dropping its landing gear and making preparations for its final descent. Some days it is low enough I can glance up and see which flavour is flying the skies; green, yellow, orange or red.

But I wasn’t always obsessed. Oh, sometimes I would lean on my hoe, look up and watch as Jazz glided by overhead and imagine the flight attendant hurrying up and down the aisle collecting plastic cups and napkins and making sure the serving trays were stowed in their upright position. Sometimes I would think of the rows of passengers and all their little feet resting on the belly of the plane as it passed over me and my patch of spuds. Other than that and a few latent dreams of an unrealized career as a flight attendant I gave very little thought to planes in our airspace. I knew nothing about flight 8175.

All that changed when I received an iPad for my birthday last fall. Yes, an iPad. The same iPad I vowed to never get. The iPad my husband insisted I would love. I insisted he was wrong. He bought it for me anyway. He was right. Not only can I pack a library’s worth of books in its thin glassed slab but with a tap of the finger I can define a word, highlight a passage, adjust the font size and do a word search.

It automatically takes me to the last page I’ve read no matter how long ago I read it so I can pick up where I left off. If I am reading a particularly juicy bit about a new technique on growing corn in the north, I can quickly switch to an Internet search to see if others are doing the same. If I read about a variety of beans I have never heard of I can track down the source and order a package online without leaving my bed.

And if I get curious about the scream of an airplane passing overhead every evening as I lay reading in bed, I can easily do a search to figure out which airplane it is. And that’s how I became obsessed with Air Canada flight 8175, which passes over our heads a little after 10 p.m. every evening except Saturday.

At first I was just curious. And I thought it would be kind of funny to turn to Darcy and say, “Well, there goes flight 8175 right on time.” Or perhaps, “Well, what do you know? Flight 8175 is running a little ahead of schedule tonight.” I figured he’d be amazed at his wife’s knowledge; instead he was alarmed to learn his wife was actually spending time sleuthing out flight numbers.

The obsession started when flight 8175 was neither on time nor ahead of schedule, but late. After half an hour would pass without the familiar shriek of the plane’s engine overhead I would start fidgeting. I could no longer concentrate on my book. I found myself going online and looking up the flight status on Air Canada’s website to see what the problem was. I’d read that it had been late leaving the gate in Vancouver and wonder why. Were they held up waiting for a passenger? Did the pilot forget the keys at home?

Do planes have keys? Was the flight attendant late? Or worse of all, was it mechanical? It is hard to lose yourself in a book, even a book on such titillating subjects as root cellars and potato scab when you’re anxiously listening for a plane.

One night when flight 8175 was more than an hour late and I was fighting off the urge to tap a reason out of my iPad, it occurred to me that if I had stuck with books none of this would have happened. As quirky and curious as I might be, I would never have bothered with the flight if the information hadn’t been placed so easily at my fingertips. Perhaps the iPad isn’t so wonderful. With the Internet, e-mail and apps vying for attention you just can’t lose yourself in it the way you can a real book. Of course, reading something besides books on herbs, vegetables and flowers might help too!

I am now striking a healthy balance between the iPad and my bookshelf. So, if you should find yourself on flight 8175, about 20 minutes before landing I’ll probably still think of you as you go by. But if you’re late, well, you’ll just have to figure things out for yourself.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting