I’m really bored. I’ve only been in the air for 4 hours, only another 11 hours to go. I’ve already watched two films, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters. As I write this and probably send this I’m somewhere over Alberta, Canada. There is wifi on the plane but it is slow. I texted my dad a picture of the wing (more of that in a minute) and it literally took six minutes to upload. (How big an example of middle-class privilege is that?) I likely choked everyone else’s bandwidth as well.

I’m bored so I’m going to geek out. Here we go. The plane is a super-new Boeing 787 800 series. It’s one of the first airliners built from carbon-composite-fiber something or other, and that makes them really light and really strong. The other thing with the carbon-fiber thingy is that it is really bendy, like rubber. It’s basically a reinforced plastic. The first thing I noticed when we were climbing was that the wings bend alarmingly upwards.

You have to factor that the aircraft carries upwards of sixteen hours of fuel. On takeoff, literally, half the weight of aircraft is fuel but as the flight goes on, the plane gets lighter and the wings bend less. Given that half the weight of the aircraft upon departure is fuel, it takes more fuel to carry that fuel. The burn rate of the fuel at the beginning of the journey is higher than at the end of the journey because it requires less power to keep the plane in the air.

Dinner was good – it was rice and chicken. I ate with chopsticks. I don’t think anyone else ate with chopsticks, which is disconcerting given where the plane is going and who is on the plane. I looked like a tourist as I threw my rice over the cabin windows.

Yes, the windows – another cool thing about the 787 is the dimming windows. Some genius in Finland figured out that certain materials can change their color if an electrical charge is placed across them. And so, why not make airplane windows out of them. Then you don’t need blinds right? The passenger next to the window gets to control the opacity of the window. There are five settings – transparent to opaque – although opaque isn’t completely opaque, it’s pretty cool. As I look out the window right now, it looks like dusk. In reality it’s full daylight. The flight attendants take control of all the windows after dinner to allow people to sleep (because it’s 4:30am Beijing time right now) and for the weirdness that is the international dateline, we have to pretend that it’s night.


Pretend night aboard American 127, non-stop service from Dallas to Shanghai

Because the plane travels westwards towards the east (bear with me here) I travel across the International Dateline. Everywhere west of the international dateline, which is in fact the eastern hemisphere, is a day ahead of everything on the east of the line, which is the western hemisphere. One transitioning the international dateline loses a day somewhere. I left Dallas at 10:20am on the Saturday (five or so hours ago), fly for fifteen hours, then land in Shanghai at 4:20pm on the Sunday. All this without even flying through any night (not including the pretend night imposed by the flight crew). I only really lend this “time,” I’m not sure to whom, but through the miracle of maths, it gets returned in full in the way back. So, in ten days, I’ll depart Tokyo at 5:20pm on a Wednesday and land in Los Angeles at 10:00am on the very same Wednesday, seven hours before I left.

I’m really excited about landing in Shanghai for a ton of reasons. The first is that even this plane is really nice – it’s still just a plane and my freedom is restricted. But the other thing is that I get to go on the fastest operational train in the world.

We’re creeping up on Alaska, and I’m tired now. I might be able to squeeze out a nap.

About the author Mark

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