On every long haul flight I invariably end up wondering WHEN scientists are going to sort out this teleporting thing. If you watch episodes of the original Star Trek, you will see Spock and Kirk and the gang talking into their mobile phones, and Uhura chatting away on her Bluetooth earpiece. The crew even shock alien bad guys with Taser guns. If so much of the technology imagined by Gene Roddenberry in the 60s has actually eventuated, when, oh when, will teleporting become a feasible alternative to flying long haul?
I saw Jumper yesterday, the film with Hayden Christensen. I watched enviously as he teleported from one part of the world to the next without jetlag, and without having to sleep sitting up while breathing stale air filled with germs.
Oh, how I hate the long haul flight. I travel frequently enough that flying anything other than coach is not a financial option, and I have only been upgraded once in the past 20 years, so coach it is. Every time. As this is the status quo, I have developed some coping mechanisms, some strategies to make it more bearable down the less pointy end of the plane. Feel free to borrow as many of these as you like.
I always request an aisle seat. I want to know that I can get up whenever I want – or at least whenever the seatbelt sign is not on. I want to be able to escape a leaner, a snorer, or a chatter to the airspace of the aisle. I request these seats when I book. I double and triple check that I have an aisle seat. And one of the advantages of checking in so early is that I can guarantee this aisle seat. It is so important to me that the on the rare occasion I haven’t had an aisle seat (twice), I spend much of the flight in a state of anxious claustrophobia. Am not afraid of flying; am afraid of being crushed into a small space without chance of escape. Fellow claustrophobics will understand.
Once on the plane – and I wait until about 2/3 of the passengers have embarked, as the rush is over, but there is still room in the overhead lockers for my biggest bag – I like to ‘nest’. I put my newly purchased array of magazines, my water bottle and lollies in the seat pocket. I take off my shoes and put on socks, and I ensure my moisturiser, lip balm, and eye drops are close at hand under the seat in front of me. I stash my big bag above my head, and all this takes less than a minute. Other essentials stashed within reach include a notebook and pen in case I am inspired, and my eye mask and ear plugs for sleep time.
The nesting is an important part of my flight, because it is me creating my own little world where I will have everything I need within reach. Sandy-land in the sky. Yes, I am aware that this sounds a little O-C and probably annoying for anyone sitting next to me. Tough!
While waiting for other passengers to embark, I indulge in another small pleasure: reading about the flight menu and the in-flight entertainment. Neither will meet the standard we enjoy in everyday life, but both take up time, and it is nice to look at the menu and think, “Oooh, we get supper, breakfast and lunch. That’s got to take up a couple of hours right there.” And the entertainment? I purposefully flick to the back of the in-flight magazine and make mental notes. Mostly I think along the lines of, “seen it”, “heard it was rubbish”, and “saw it and it was rubbish”, but every so often, I turn to that page and internally exclaim, “Haven’t seen it, heard it was brilliant!” It is a small moment, but a good one. Of course, many planes have those fancy-schmancy ‘back-of-the-seat-choose-your-own-adventure” entertainment systems which negates much of this. However, although I generally fly Qantas and other such ‘first-rate’ airlines, I have poor luck in getting on one of these planes. 4 of my last 5 international flights have been on planes only slightly younger than the flight attendants.
After checking out the meal service and entertainment comes the greatest pleasure of all when flying coach long haul. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, you cannot help but feel smug and unbelievably elated. It is the moment when you realise that the seat next to yours will remain empty for the next 14 hours and 27 minutes. You can spread out. And the only other person to share that moment with, is the one sitting on the other side of the empty seat. A smile and a nod will do it. No need for lengthy diatribes – you both just know. YES!
So, I have expounded on the pleasures of flying coach long haul, and we haven’t even left the ground yet. This is because once we leave the ground, any possibility of further small pleasures evaporates. Once flying, it is all about the countdown to landing. Why do you think they have those obnoxious screens with the little plane on a map, moving along at a rate that would make a snail smirk? Because they (the all-knowing ‘THEY’ with their infinite wisdom) know that even though we let ourselves get distracted by the movies playing on a screen we can only see if we sit on our hand luggage and crick our neck to the left, flying long haul is mostly about ‘Are we there yet?” So, in between movies and food service, we stare at that stupid map and will the little plane to go faster.
About an hour into the flight, they start to heat up the food in the galleys, and no matter what it is, by that time, in that situation, the wafting aroma excites the palate. The food when it arrives tends to disappoint, but we sit there with our itsy-bitsy plastic crockery arranging everything as though it is our last meal. We take our time to butter the bread roll, to cut the cheese into small portions to evenly distribute it amongst the three crackers. We look up the aisle excitedly as the drink cart makes its way to us, knowing we can order wine, because it is free on long haul flights. We may even just save the mini-chocolate bar for later. We eat like rows of praying mantis with our little plastic forks and knives, and we are grateful for this sub-standard fare because it takes up time.
I should say at this point that I have a trick. I always order a ‘special meal’ – and I will happily chop and change between ‘low fat’, ‘lactose intolerant’, ‘low glycemic’ and ‘gluten free’ options. I am not fussed about the meal, but if I order a special meal, it comes out before the main service – often well before. I may have to wait for that tiny plane to cross the international date line, but I don’t have to wait for that food cart to come all the way down the aisle to my row. So, I lied a little before. There is one small pleasure to be had once in the air. It sounds like this, “Miss Barker, I have your meal for you.”
The other stuff is just there to suffer through – and sleep through if you can:
- Children who kick the back of your seat or chuck tantrums. Once in a while I feel like chucking a tantrum on a plane too – maybe thats why I dislike these children so much – because I am jealous.
- The snorer, who keeps everyone awake but himself.
- The phantom farter, who seems to think the air-conditioning just sucks the smell out into the atmosphere.
- The dodgy entertainment system that stops working 3 minutes before the end of a film you have invested 2 hours and 45 minutes in.
- The state of the bathrooms after 12 hours of flying.
- The loud talker. If I can hear her from row 32 when she is in row 19, could someone please tell her it is likely she can lower her voice and the person next to her will still be able to hear what she is saying?
- Disappearing flight attendants. “Excuse me, could I please have a cup of tea?” outside of normal drink service will guarantee you will never see that flight attendant – or any of her colleagues – again.
- The uncomfortable irony of being desperate for the bathroom and more thirsty than you can ever remember – and the seatbelt sign stays on for eternity. Never has one little neon red light meant so much.
I did promise to write about airports, as I have been to more airports than destinations, but not tonight. Tonight I am going to eat a delicious dinner on real crockery, then stretch out on my couch and watch whatever I darned well please.