Column: Election Night: The Plane Truth

Nov 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

I was flying over “ruby red” Utah last Tuesday when the television networks called the presidential election for Sen. Barack Obama. We’d already had our first beverage and snack service—animal crackers, Terra chips and a Doritos snack mix among the choices—and the JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland had been strangely quiet for the first three hours.
I was on a plane Election Night because I had to be in New York on Election Day. When I first realized the panel I’d be moderating at the Ad:Tech conference fell on Nov. 4, I did two things: I requested a vote-by-mail ballot and I booked my flight home on JetBlue. That’s because JetBlue offers seatback DirecTV programming on its planes, meaning I could watch the election results from an unusual perch: more than 30,000 feet above the very country whose political map changed as we flew over it.
After boarding the flight that left New York as the East Coast polls started closing, I jumped from channel to channel right away—CNN, Fox News Channel, Fox, NBC, CBS.
But I was one of the few on the flight who tuned in that early (the guy sitting next to me watched a Daniel Radcliffe interview at that time). Shortly after the networks called the first states of Vermont and Kentucky around 7 p.m. EST, I conducted a little recon, strolling up and down the aisle, checking out the channels other passengers were watching. But most weren’t eyeing the returns; they were fixed on episodes of “Family Guy” or Food Network shows.
As the evening progressed, more passengers flipped on their televisions. Still, there was no collective reaction—no dejected sighs, no hearty cries—when Pennsylvania went to Sen. Obama, a clear sign of the night to come.
Even when Fox called Ohio at 9:19 p.m. EST, the flight was still subdued. Were we all being too polite, too aware of reds and blues and not wanting to offend someone who had voted the other way if we cheered or booed?
Sure, the flight was from New York to the Bay Area, two of the most left-leaning destinations in the United States. But just because those places are “berry blue” didn’t mean every passenger was pulling for Sen. Obama.
Minutes before the West Coast polls closed, I decided to join some friends who happened to be on the same flight, Tim Shey and Rachel Garcia from Next New Networks.
As I made my way back to their row, I noticed most of the passengers had turned on their TVs. Most of them were tuned to CNN.
When the networks made the call at 10 p.m.—far, far above Utah for Tim, Rachel, the pilots, the flight attendants, the rest of the passengers and me—the plane did indeed erupt in cheers, claps and even a few sturdy hoots.
That’s when it felt like we were in it together, it being the odd experience of sharing something momentous with people who are mostly perfect strangers.
Three more times that night, the passengers cheered together—when Sen. Obama first took the stage in Chicago for his victory speech, at the beginning of his “Yes we can” refrain and when the speech ended.
And you know what I realized? That being without Internet access for six hours wasn’t so bad. And not for some touchy-feely “we are one” moment. But because for something this big, TV really does a better job.
For me, it did that job from 30,000 feet and cruising.


  1. This kind of self-absorbed blather is why I rarely read your column. You’re not a journalist, just another brain-dead member of the Obamanation.

  2. love him ( i like him) or hate him…this is the perfect example of McLuhan’s “global village.”

  3. Thank goodness for Jet Blue and their DirecTV. Wouldn’t you have been DYING if you had to fly with no connection to the outside world during such an important moment in history?
    It is kind of cool to experience such unifying (or maybe divisive if you were flying some place else) thing with strangers. But I’m glad I was among friends eating pizza and drinking champagne. 🙂

  4. Au contraire, “Dad Eo” – you epitomize the simplemindedness that has plagued this land for way too many years…

  5. What an amazing way to experience the outcome, no matter who you voted for.

  6. Thanks for that perspective Daisy…. I guess you’re either on the bus (or in this case, plane) or off the bus. Dad Eo obviously isn’t a “real” beatnik.

  7. RE. The Election Nite Column and “Dad Eo” response:
    Three quick counter-points: 1)Daisy is a Columnist not a Journalist. Columnists are paid to have opinions and to express them. Regrettably, this is a error made too often by those critical of public commentary that happens to be contrary to their own viewpoint 2)Your credibility is strained, perhaps foolish, when you write a letter claiming that you rarely read the very column you are complaining about and 3)
    you are pointing your nose in the wrong direction when you say that those who cheer a fair election outcome are “brain-dead.”

  8. There are and always be certain events that we want to experience live, with sports, breaking news, weather, traffic and award shows always leading the pack (and this year, with SNL making a return appearance). But as cable news networks and real-time mobile TV services have learned, it’s very hard to build a substantial ongoing business on those forms of live TV alone. Very “spiky”, to say the least.

  9. I had an amazing media experience going from Times Square, where ABC was broadcasting to a huge crowd that cheered whenever a state was called for Obama and booed when one went for McCain, up past News Corp on 6th Ave where a small panel (with an equally small audience) was discussing how the country is really “center right” despite the outcome, to Rockefeller Center, where a jubilant gathering watched NBC’s broadcast of McCain’s concession speech. You couldn’t *pay* me to go to Times Square on New Year’s, but I am very grateful to have been caught up in the spirit last Tuesday.

  10. AA JFK to SF has Internet!

  11. If the flight had Internet access, though, couldn’t you have as easily watched returns live on cspan.org or some other network’s live web feed?
    And does this column signal the end of your reportage on your ongoing experiment with web-only, no-TV living? That would be a shame, since based on what you’ve written you don’t appear to have dipped more than a couple of toes into the online tele-video experience, and also haven’t really drawn any conclusions about the experiment yet.
    Unlike that rude fellow above, I don’t really care what your politics are; however, I only began reading your column when you started the experiment. Please continue when the happy glow of Obama’s deserved victory wears off!

  12. What an awesome experience, Daisy! Loved this write up! One you will always remember.

  13. Thanks for all the comments! and yes the experiment continues…I just took a break this week to write about the flight home…but keep reading this coming week as I have lots of fun updates on my cable-free life, Cenzo

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