I hate flying but not because I am scared of it. I loathe being imprisoned in a metal sausage that is hurtling through the air at 35,000 feet.
I travel a lot, mainly through work but occasionally for pleasure and regrettably the mode of transport is usually an aircraft. I wouldn’t mind if it were a pleasant experience.
It is not.
A manager at work once said this to me when I complained about flying. I swear I am not making this up:
“What are you moaning about? A long haul flight is like being in a hotel; you get good food, you get a few films and you get the chance to sleep.”
I was so stunned by what he had said that I almost risked my career with the ensuing outburst.
Let’s analyse, for a second, what he said.
“You get good food.”
The food on a long haul flight can only be described as plastic food. It is not real and it is barely edible. Imagine, if you can, that you have been abducted by an alien space craft and are hurtling towards an alien planet at an impossible speed. The alien monstrosity that has imprisoned you sees that you require sustenance for the long journey so he analyses your dietary requirements using advanced science and concocts a dish of slimy crap that will provide the nourishment your body requires but looks and tastes like something the cat left in the garden. That’s exactly what airplane food tastes like.
“You get a few films.”
This is true; you do get a few movies. However, you have to watch them on a screen that is tiny with headphones that would make a nuclear explosion sound like a squeak. Add to that the screaming baby that is inevitably within earshot and the background droning roar of the engines, with the occasional ping when passengers require the stewardesses, you barely hear anything. And of course your movie gets interrupted when the captain speaks. And, if you time it badly, you end up missing the last hour of the movie because you either fall asleep or the captain decides to switch off the entertainment system a full thirty minutes before the aircraft lands.
“You get a chance to sleep.”
This is the biggest lie of all.
On a long haul flight?
My company, as most companies these days, has adopted a policy of flying everywhere in economy class. The name for economy class varies from airline to airline and is usually given a name that implies importance, luxury or both. We are presented with names like:
World Explorer Class
The names are horseshit and do not even remotely indicate the torture you are going to have to endure for twelve hours. More accurate names would be:
Pig Swill Class
Medieval Torture Class
Although the name implies luxury, in reality you end up in the most uncomfortable place in the world. It is physically impossible to sleep in economy class unless you are so tired that you could sleep standing up, or the stewardesses puts you to sleep with a baseball bat.
How on earth can anybody sleep in such conditions? Let's have a look at the options:
If you end up next to the window you can possibly lean against the window. The problem is that there is no room for your legs because the seat in front is so far back that your knees are next to your ears for the entire flight. You can’t curl up into a foetal ball because your back grates against the armrest and the person next to you invariably doesn’t want to lift it up. You could sit up straight but your head ends up lolling forward, waking you up every ten seconds as you involuntarily do a poor impression of a nodding dog.
In the middle seats it is possibly worse because the people either side of you, in a futile attempt to get comfortable end up kicking you, elbowing you in the face or kidneys and possibly end up snoring directly into your face having just consumed enough wine to make them pass out.
The aisle seat may appear to be the most appealing but if you do manage to fall asleep you will be woken up constantly as people walk past and kick you, tread on you or drop things on you.
You cannot sleep in economy class on an aircraft unless the plane is empty, you are a child, you are a dwarf or you are so drunk that you cannot function.
Believe me, I have been drunk on a long haul flight and it is possibly my worst ever decision. On a business trip to Hong Kong, I decided to try to blag my way into business class for the trip home using all of my guile and charm. The problem is that I have no charm and I am about as cunning as a dead fox.
I failed to convince the woman at the check in desk that I needed an upgrade but she did offer me a carrot. I’m not suggesting that she thought I looked like the back end of a donkey (though she probably did). What she said was “There’s a possibility of an upgrade but you need to ask at the gate. I hope you are persuasive.”
I am not persuasive at all so I decided that I needed some Dutch courage. I sat in the bar on my own and drank more beer than I should have. I arrived at the gate and marched up to the gate staff with all of the arrogance of a drunk businessman but none of the charisma. I failed spectacularly to acquire an upgrade and, being drunk, my emotions were more dramatic; I slumped in a chair and, with tears of disappointment in my eyes, I started to moan and grumble to myself.
On the aircraft, I ended up in a window seat and that’s when the alcohol began to take its toll. I dozed off in the most uncomfortable position imaginable with my head jammed in the window indent, my mouth wide open, a snore rumbling from that massive open maw (the poor woman next to me later informed me of this) and my tongue lolling out accompanied by a torrent of dribble.
I missed my food, water and a film that I actually wanted to watch.
I awoke about three hours into the twelve hour flight. The aircraft was in total darkness and my cheek was stuck to the plastic window by a thin layer of my own saliva. For a second I had no clue who I was or where I was. And then, when the headache announced its presence, I remembered.
I was crammed into a seat that was meant for toddlers.
I had a banging headache.
My back was in agony because it had repeatedly scrapped and bashed the armrest.
My knees felt as if somebody had repeatedly hit them with a mallet.
I felt slightly nauseas from one too many beers and lack of food.
My bladder was quite literally about to explode.
I didn’t want to go to the toilet at all; I just wanted my own bed. Alas, I had no choice and had to negotiate my way past two strangers.
Next to me was a woman in her forties who was not too tall and could just about stretch out and sleep. She was snoring lightly.
Next to her, on the aisle seat was a big fat oaf of a man whose gut was so enormous that it scraped the seat in front. He required a seat belt extension to circumvent his monstrous belly. And he was fast asleep and snoring like a lion with a very bad cold.
I wondered how the woman next to me could cope with the noise of this Michelin man and then it was clear to me – she was wearing earplugs.
My humiliation was complete. I had to wake up this poor sleeping woman and the sack of blubber next to her in order to get past them both. Needless to say they were both angry; the woman because I had woken her up from a deep sleep and blubberman because he had to crowbar his huge mass out of the seat so that I could get past.
After the trip to the toilet I returned to my seat and remained awake for the rest of the flight with a headache, an aching body and a battered ego.
I will never board a plane again with too much beer in my system.
I wish I could say that I would never again fly long haul in economy class. Alas I will, in the next month or two on a business trip to China. I am looking forward to going back to China but the journey there and back will be Hell on Earth – or should I say Hell in a Metal Sausage.
I’m sure that the manager I mentioned at the beginning of the post, who incidentally is a very nice bloke, will compare my journey to a night in the Hilton.
He is right, of course, but only if he is comparing it to trying to sleep in a tiny shower stall, while trying to eat the shower curtain, in a room full to the brim of noisy fat people and snoring lions.