unreachable /nritəb(ə)l/ adj. unable to be reached or contacted; inaccessible.

An exasperated pilot tries to crash his plane into the sun rather than listen to another bloody mobile conversation. Picture: Thinkstock

Sorry to spell it out but I wanted you to see the true meaning of this wonderful word one last time before it disappears into the kind of thin air that airplanes with Wi-Fi flap about in.

Technobabble has brought about many new dictionary definitions, from floppy disks to hard drives and everything in between. But now technology is making the dictionary thinner rather than fatter by rendering words such as ‘unreachable’ passé, or at least confined to describing children’s footballs in tree branches.

I’m no hermit but, as far as I’m concerned, the best time is down time, being off limits, as unreachable as that children’s football. That’s one of the reasons I love flying. No one can contact me and I’m free to switch off both my mind and the ever-increasing number of gadgets that keep it connected to the world.

Flying is about freedom, about the wild blue yonder. It’s a beautiful irony that life stops while you’re rocketing along just shy of the speed of sound. But soon it will stop no more. 

I recently rocketed from Dubai to Rome on the state-of-the-art Airbus A380 – the behemoth bird, the double-decker, the 500-seat settlement with wings. This is the world’s largest commercial aircraft, so big it should have its own postcode when it lands. Whoever said size doesn’t matter didn’t work for Airbus. I would hate to be a cloud these days.

As usual I was flying cattle class but I stole a peek upstairs as I boarded and am fairly sure I spied a waterfall, or perhaps it was just a waterfall effect on the wall. Whatever it was, the only waterfall I have hitherto encountered on a long-haul flight was a leaking loo. Apparently there’s a bar up there as well; one of the few bars on, err, earth that you can stumble away from and blame it on turbulence.

I was looking forward to the flight as much as the holiday because for me ‘getting away from it all’ starts when the pilots throttle the throttles. As I ordered a drink and reclined my chair further than I had expected it to recline, the purser announced that our cutting-edge craft was equipped with, da-da-ding, free Wi-Fi! This elicited an audible cheer from a number of passengers. It was as though they had been told we had enough oxygen for the journey.

But I’m getting off track, which is dangerous when you’re flying. Where was I? Ah, yes – 30,000 feet above the Arabian Desert, about as remote as you can get from Abbott Street, yet I could still receive unsolicited emails hawking Viagra. Heavens above!

Live television, internet and, very soon, the possibility of using your mobile phone will be par for the celestial course. And it’s not just the A380 that might soon become a flying phone booth, with Boeing recently announcing that its much-anticipated Dreamliner will also permit the use of mobile phones. Sounds more like the Nightmareliner to me.

Call me a dinosaur, or a Pterodactyl in this case, but I don’t want to be able to use my mobile phone on a commercial flight, or at least a long-haul commercial flight. Yes, I know I can switch it off if I wish to remain unreachable, but I can’t turn yours off, or those of the other 500 people on board. And some very important people have two mobiles these days.

A few weeks after that flight I was minding my own business on a London bus when the phone of a female passenger behind me played a tune I am too old to recognise; it wasn’t Gangnam Style, but no doubt would be now. I also wouldn’t recognise the passenger because I didn’t see her face.

There is nothing I don’t know about her love life, however. (He’s ‘babe-a-licious’) Or her new job. (It’s ‘pants’, which means ‘displeasing’ in the UK.) Or her flatmate. (Won’t wash the dishes and picks his toenails when he watches a film.) Or last Saturday at the pub. (Drank too much.) Or the location of her next piercing… (Ouch!)

Everything the person on the other end of the line said was greeted with “presh”, which I’m assuming meant “precious”, and which, in a remarkable parallel, describes how I am on the subject of mobile phones and public transport.

At first I quite enjoyed her conversation. Writers love listening to the lives of people. But after three or four stops and 15 mentions of the word “presh” I wanted to tell her to pierce her tongue rather than her belly-button, if only because it might shut her up for a bit.

The one thing I clang onto on the 271 to Highgate Village was the fact that my stop wasn’t far away. Imagine, however, how I might have felt had we been 30,000 feet above the Arabian Desert with six hours of unintentional eavesdropping ahead. Perhaps that’s why there’s a bar on board.

I’m sure the airlines will ask us to consider our fellow passengers in terms of phone usage, to put our gadgets on vibrate and to speak softly. Perhaps they will have sections of the plane where you can use phones and sections where you can’t. But that’s not the point. There is something wonderful about distance, about being remote, about not having everything immediately, about anticipation…

As the world shrinks and communicating with others seems to preoccupy the planet more than feeding every person on it, the beauty of distance disappears.

And that is far from presh.

Just don’t tweet him when he’s in the air: Chris’s Twitter

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

Most commented


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    • Tim says:

      06:13am | 15/10/12

      Flights are boring. Wifi alleviates boredom. Wifi on planes good.

    • Greg says:

      08:13am | 15/10/12

      If you can’t load your gadgets up with enough to do to pass time on a flight without requiring wi-fi then there is no help for you.

    • Mahhrat says:

      06:17am | 15/10/12

      There are two aspects to this, I think:

      First, the OP is right.  Being disconnected can be wonderful.  I’ve always thought it a bit like my infrequent trips into the bush - the peace, the sounds of nature - they do something positive to the spirit, I’m sure.  We’re not meant to sit in an office.

      Second, the OP is wrong.  Some people like it, and if there’s a market for it, we should have it.  I can imagine there are an awful lot of businesspeople who would like to be responding to emails while they travel.  Parents would love to give the iPhone to the kid to hush them, which is something I’m sure most travellers would be pleased about.

      If you don’t want to be connected, then disconnect yourself.  You can do it at home easily enough.

    • KH says:

      07:07am | 15/10/12

      Its not about getting emails or games - its about annoying people who have loud phone conversations and destroy everyone elses flight.  For more than 20 hours if you are going from say Melb to London.  And no, noise cancelling headphones don’t do much for intermittent noise - they are designed to deal with constant noise, which doesn’t include annoying phone calls.  The brutal fact is that most people these days have their heads stuck so far up their own rear ends they barely notice anyone else around them, let alone consider their comfort before launching into another inane conversation with too much information in it.

    • Mike says:

      07:37am | 15/10/12

      Too right KH.  I am a frequent flyer and I LOVE not being contactable. 

      Seriously, in the old days of the 90s, there was a phone (as GKM says below), and it cost a gazillion dollars a minute to use, which is why no one did.  Today’s availability of technology has pushed the phone into the reach of everyone, especially the CUB.

      If it is so important that you cannot be out of phone range for an hour and a half, or even a day, then drive there, or take the train.  I’m sick of being on planes (and corporates are the worst offenders) to get onto their phones as soon as the plane lands - “HELLO, JOHN, I’M IN THE PLANE, WE’LL HAVE TO LUNCH SOMETIME, TELL MICHAEL THAT THE DEAL IS GOING AHEAD, OH AND BUY 1,000 (whatever stock) AT $3.50”.  You get the drift.

      I would go mental from SYD-LHR if it was like that; regardless of whatever class I was in.  It is a long enough flight as it is, please don’t make it any more torturous.

      Some can’t even respect the “quiet areas” of the lounges that are CLEARLY signposted “no mobile phones”.

      Being on the phone also renders you immune to Customs officers, flight attendants and anyone else who might remotely be in a position of authority when you land, because your call is so important and how dare they interrupt you !  I’d say “use your phone in the passport queue, get sent to the back”.  This is a Customs and Immigration Area, so no video or mobile phones.  Problem solved.

      Your loved ones can wait a few more minutes until you get to the other side of passport control.

    • GKM says:

      06:48am | 15/10/12

      With you 100%.

      If there is a true emergency you can contact people on a plane via the airline. They radio the pilot and it gets put through to the small crew phone at the front of the plane. Add to that, that many carriers have phones located on the backs of the seats which can be used if you are willing to pay an outrageous credit card fee.

      If it is not important enough to warrant using those methods - then it can wait till you land.

      I travel regularly and will happily take my business to airlines that don’t allow mobile phone use while in the air.

    • Chris says:

      07:14am | 15/10/12

      I agree re mobile phones and disagree re wifi.

      Flights are boring and being able to surf or play a game would be great… although I think power sockets in seats would be more of an advance (in all planes, even retro-fitting them - and also not requiring some wierd cable that you can only buy from a shop in a remote corner of terminal 3 at Changi which is not much good when you are en-route to London).

      Mobiles I agree are a step too far. I can only hope that the call charges are so massive that people don’t have big long gossips on them whilst in the air.

    • Greg says:

      08:18am | 15/10/12

      If you aren’t smart enough to put games/books/movies onto your devices before you fly then you don’t deserve to own these devices.

      And there is nothing on the internet that is so important that it can’t wait until you land.

    • Modern Primitive says:

      07:45am | 15/10/12

      If you don’t like traveling with the plebs, charter your own flight.

    • iansand says:

      07:49am | 15/10/12

      I suspect that most flights are out of range of phone towers when they are at cruising altitude, and especially over oceans.  This will still have to go through an onboard system, which will render it too expensive for casual mindless chat. 

      I hope.

    • asunder says:

      08:08am | 15/10/12

      On some level do you not think that the contrived importance we place on technology is a spiritual issue?  As in, in lieu of fundamental connections to the Earth and spiritual fulfillment we do our best to find meaning in other ways, through technology, self-importance, etc…

    • Achmed says:

      08:29am | 15/10/12

      People who can’t “live” without being in constant phone contact with someone need not fear the thought of brain cancer that mobile are reputed to cause.

      Gotta have one first.

    • Maryjane. says:

      09:05am | 15/10/12

      During a train jouney yesterday a woman five rows away had a conversation on her mobile which lasted for the whole trip.  The conversation was loud and intrusive.
      I wear powerful hearing aids which, when I turn them off, will render crying babies silent during flights, so she was louder than a crying infant.  God help anyone sitting next to her on a twelve hour plane trip

    • MD says:

      09:32am | 15/10/12

      Who would need to work on a plane trip, everyone must be on a holiday because that’s the only reason people fly right?

    • Kika says:

      09:38am | 15/10/12

      I can see the benefit - it would be cool to check out the net and things when you are bored. Not with calls - Cattle Class is annoying at the best of times let alone having everyone around you on the phone. Texting would be ok. I can’t seem to stay focused when I’m flying. I do something for 5 minutes and get bored really quickly. The only thing that gets me through is listening to music and getting stuck into a good book.

    • OzTrucker says:

      10:11am | 15/10/12

      It intrigues me that when some inconsiderate prat goes on with their antisocial behaviour (smoking right outside the building door or yapping on the mobile or the loud sounds emanating from cars, you can’t call it music) and you point out their bad manners they seem to think they are not the one with the problem.

      I went the the shopping centre the other week and was walking across the marked pedestrian walkway. As I took about my second pace I was very nearly hit by a car. I made a loud remark about road rules. I was duly rewarded with the finger and a screech of tyres. Lovely.

      This, I think, illustrates the attitude today. Bugger anyone else. I do what I want.

      So we will be able to be on the phone on the plane now. Perfect. Whatever happened to our right to the peaceful enjoyment of our life?

    • flee says:

      10:33am | 15/10/12

      Your argument is flawed.  WiFi is data, not phone calls.  I like WiFi because I like to have something to do on a flight.  But I do completely agree that people who make calls in a confined space such as a plane or a train/bus are incredibly inconsiderate and annoying.

    • Terry2 says:

      10:42am | 15/10/12

      I was at a performance of Oliver in London some years ago; Barry Humphries was playing Fagin. All of a sudden a mobile phone went off and then, incredibly, the person took the call. Humphries paused mid-performance and glared in the general direction of the telephonista who finally exited the auditorium to continue the call….....unbelievable !

    • Meh says:

      10:42am | 15/10/12

      “one of the reasons I love flying. No one can contact me and I’m free to switch off both my mind”

      That is exactly how I used to feel about flying, sipping away at a scotch n coke, listening to music, looking out the window, filling numbers into the suduko puzzle, reading a few pages. So wonderful I couldn’t wait to board my next flight.

      Then I had the kid, trying to keep a toddler entertained enough for a few hours so as to not disturb others in the space the size of a small cardboard box is a nightmare at the best of times. Bring on the WiFi and let me stream CBeebies Alphablocks, it is for your comfort!

    • True Blue Ozzie says:

      10:54am | 15/10/12

      While Wifi is a great tool, and has opened up the world to many, I think it’s over used. I like to do things with out being tied down to a mobile phone etc. I dont want the world to have access to me 24/7, I like “me”  time and value this time so much, it’s a time to recharge the battery’s get my head togethor, for the next onslaught of daily life. Yes “me” time is “presh”!

    • baddog says:

      11:50am | 15/10/12

      On my last flight from Brisbane to Perth (5 hours) I was sitting in front of the most boring, dim-witted woman alive. The entire trip she loudly verbalised every single thought that entered her brain, from what she could see out the window (“oh look at the lights and buildings and all the houses and the trees and the roads and the…”) to reading every on-board entertainment option (“Modern Family. This episode is about blah blah blah…”) Five hours of complete mind-destroying drivel. It was one of the worst experience I’ve had flying. And she wasn’t a Gen Xer, she was about 60yrs old.  My point is people with normal social intelligence won’t abuse mobile phones on flights. People with no sense of social normality already make life hell.

    • Alicia says:

      12:18pm | 15/10/12

      Sounds like she had something wrong with her mentally aside from just being “dim-witted”.

    • Nikki says:

      01:43pm | 15/10/12

      Sounds like my mother.  She ‘narrates’ everything and talks too loud. She’s American though, so that might have something to do with it.


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