I don’t know about you, but whenever I book a trip, one of the first things I start thinking about is reading material for the flight. It’s kind of absurd how seriously I take this decision.
Last summer, weeks (let’s be honest, probably months) before a trip to Seattle, I painstakingly decided I would read Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. As a result, when passing under nondescript overpasses (of which Seattle has many), I found myself imagining it was 1999, in the days leading up to the anti-globalization protests, and that the runaway Victor was right around the corner somewhere.
Good books have the power to transport you like that: across time, space, and circumstance. But sometimes books hit too close to home.
I thought about that this week while reading Brendan I. Koerner’s The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking. A fascinating book to read from the comfort of one’s couch, I wouldn’t advise reading it aboard an aircraft – especially for those, like me, with vivid imaginations.
While centered around the hijacking of Western Airlines Flight 701 by Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow in the summer of 1972, the book is, in fact, a history of hijackings (or “skyjackings”) in America, a terrifying and somewhat puzzling phenomenon that reached its peak in the late ’60s and early ’70s. At certain points during that period, hijackings were occurring on a weekly basis. Then, for various reasons, the craze basically stopped.
“The essence of skyjacking’s allure had always been the theatricality of the crime; a seized plane was a mammoth stage, and the nation below an audience rapt in suspense over how it would all end,” Koerner writes. “But like so many theatrical fads, skyjacking did not age well: once images of ransom deliveries and tarmac shoot-outs disappeared from the airwaves, the crime quickly assumed a dated feel. What lingered in people’s minds was not the skyjackers’ audacity, but their futility.”
The debates of the time over increased airport security now seem utterly quaint given our post-9/11 sensibilities (it took years and years to generate sufficient public will to institute metal detectors at airports), but in other ways, it’s hard to believe these events took place nearly a half-century ago. Perhaps the world hasn’t changed nearly as much as we think it has.
If you’re flying somewhere this summer, I hope you take along a book you can get lost in. But save The Skies Belong to Us for a time when your feet are firmly planted on the solid ground.