Airplanes are not places – this is my brilliant insight about airplanes. I was in a class this summer on the History of the Marine Sciences, and in one lecture the professor told us about a theory of the modern scientific laboratory as a ‘placeless place’. I suppose this could be elaborated as: a laboratory is a place, but it is not in a place. Maybe. In any case, whoever came up with that formulation presumably thought it through; whether, then, airplanes are not places or whether they are placeless places is, strictly speaking, undetermined. My point, though, is that travelling by airplane is essentially a form of teleportation, in that it involves travelling from a starting point to a destination without traversing any of the intervening places. One does traverse some kind of intervening space (namely, some part of the atmosphere), but not any humanly habitable space – not any space that has the capacity to be a place. What then of mid-journey airport layovers? Well, airports tend to be placeless, or un-placed, or deprived of place-context, or only-quasi-places, in a different sense: they are typically very poorly connected to the urban fabric of the city which they serve.
Airplanes, though, stand in contrast from trains, automobiles, bicycles, feet, horses, and all other land-based modes of transport, as well as boats of all kinds. They may also be contrasted – interestingly – with hot-air balloons, which are vulnerable to the whims of the wind, like sailboats – and thus susceptible to a part of the particular character of the place they are in. Motorboats, then, distance themselves somewhat from place, because they may have a degree of indifference to the wind and other environmental conditions. (Cruise ships are very obviously – and very deliberately – removed from place.)
(Karis Tees once said that she hopes the King’s Chapel may show students what place is. What does that mean?)