The Joys of Air Travel

Things I hate about flying


Sitting at Bangkok airport recently, waiting for a flight to Germany, It dawned on me just how much I'd come to despise flying. Not just the plane journey itself, but the getting to the airport, the going through immigration, the shuttle bus from terminal to aircraft - in fact was there a single aspect of travelling by plane that I still enjoyed? In no particular order, here's a list of my endless moans and groans associated with air travel. I'm sure you have your own list of favorites too.

When people store things in overhead lockers, why don't they store it only in the locker directly above the seat they've been assigned? I've noticed that if you're one of the last passengers to board a plane, there's never any room for your stuff in the overhead bin. How can the carry-on Samsonite in the locker above seat 23C possibly belong to the man sitting in 46F?

Many airlines offer passengers a hot towel after they've been seated on the aircraft. It's actually a nice welcome touch. But do stewards really have to collect the towels five minutes later with that pair of luxury length tongs and make me feel as if I'm the guy battling advanced stages of leprosy? Just hold out the basket. Walk up and down the aisle ringing a school-bell and shouting ‘cast forth thy soiled linen' if you have to but please - lose the tongs.

I hate the way slightly camp Amerasian stewards ask if sir would care for more coffee.

You can have an in-flight entertainment system with 6,000 different channels, but it invariably comes down to watching an old episode of Friends, a documentary on the ridiculous amounts of money you could burn through in Dubai or a movie featuring a wholesome American family and a lost puppy.

And if you don't want to watch TV, you can always play Super Mario Go-karting or listen to a music channel devoted to the latest from the world of Scandinavian Euro-pop.

I despise in-flight duty-free shopping magazines. Does anybody sit there as the plane cruises over the Pyrenees and think "yes, I think I'll buzz the slightly camp Amerasian steward and ask him if they've got the Bvlgari diamond-encrusted matching watch and pendant set"

About half an hour before landing, the air-crew hands out immigration cards for you to fill in. It's at this moment that you realize the cheap biro you bought specifically for this task is located somewhere at the bottom of your suitcase. And you can only watch with a mix of self-loathing and inadequacy as the guy seated across the aisle whips out a gorgeous Mont Blanc fountain pen and signs the card with a flourish.

If you're anything like me, you've read the in-flight magazine, the duty free booklet and the safety card instructions before the plane has even taxied down the runway. But then comes the savior in the form of a stewardess with a trolley loaded with daily newspapers. The Abu Dhabi Times, The Mumbai Herald - the choice is yours!

Many airline companies offer kiddy packs - crayons, coloring books and comics - to younger travelers to alleviate boredom during a long haul flight. Hey! What about us adults? How about six back issues of Penthouse and a newspaper in a language we understand? We're all in this together.

Why fight to get a position right beside the baggage carousel? Is there a logic that says if you don't grab your luggage first time around, the ground staff has the right to put it up for public auction?

Why does the captain have to come on the PA system and tell us how fast we'll be travelling and how high we'll be flying? There are no traffic cops up there, no speeding tickets - just put your foot down you gold-braided twit.

"After we've flown over Hamburg. We'll be making a left and reaching an altitude of about 20,000 feet with a tail wind of about 45 kilometres an hour" Hey! Here's the news - there isn't a single person on board apart from you who gives a shit. I don't knock on the cockpit door to tell you what I'm going to be doing during the flight. Just get us to the place that it says on the ticket and that'll be more than good enough.

I can never work out the toilet occupied / engaged lighting system on aircraft. I can't even open the toilet door most of the time. And I never want to be part of that little queue of toilet-goers that develops near the stewardess' galley. I know I'm not alone and this is why the first toilet inside the arrival terminal is always so horribly crowded.

Even though you might be the most law-abiding person on God's planet, going through immigration control anywhere is always an ordeal. Why is the officer scrutinizing my passport more closely than everyone else's? There isn't really anything to worry about but all you can think of is ‘Midnight Express'
Nothing quite matches the terror of when the officer examining your passport engages in conversation with a uniformed colleague. It's probably no more than a casual chit-chat about football, the workload or how good one of them is in bed, but to you it's YOU they're discussing.
"What should we do with this one?"
"I think we should take him in for some questioning in that little room we've got with the water trickling down the bare stone walls"
"And then what?"
"And then possibly hang him"

No-one and I mean no-one, has ever invented the perfect travel companion. By travel companion I mean a fashionable leather travel organizer where your passport, boarding card and all that other irritating paperwork is ready to hand. No matter how many pouches, flaps and pockets you've got in your ‘travel-mate', you still end up stuffing your boarding card in a jacket pocket that you've never ever used before. And of course the only time to begin frantically searching for it is as you're about to board the plane with a queue of two hundred passengers behind you.

I love the facial expression one adopts as they lift their suitcase onto the conveyor belt at the time of check-in to disguise the fact you need the strength of Samson to get it off the ground.

Everyone is a better traveler than I am. I look around an airport departure terminal and most seem to take air travel in their stride. I particularly like the hippy couple - all goatee beard, henna tattoo and sweaty armpits - and the way the male pushes the female around on the baggage trolley looking as if they haven't a care in the world.

Do those responsible for devising the prices of food at airports actually ever go out in the real world and see what normal people pay for everyday things? Because listen - were you to leave the relative safety and comfort of the airport complex, you would see that no one in the real world pays five dollars for a tuna sandwich wrapped in cellophane.

There are few places you can kill time whilst waiting for a flight. The duty-free shop, particularly the fragrances section is the worst place of all, because there's a strange force that compels you try a squib of every after-shave and eau de toilette going. You end up with Jean Paul Gautier's Machismo on your left wrist, Calvin Klein's Man Love on your right, and Hugo Boss's Twilight behind your ear. No one goes around smelling like that.

When was the last time you flew economy and sat next to someone who could hold a decent conversation? I seem to always get the guy who can tap into levels of sleep previously known only to medical researchers. This is the guy who's got the neck pillow and eye mask. This is the guy who's slipped on his in-flight socks and covered himself in the blanket before the crew have even had chance to pass round the dinner menus. At one point he even starts snoring. How do these people do it?

Swish! I love the swish of that curtain that divides the richer people sitting in business class from you, and the rest of the rabble in the economy seats. Every time a stewardess passes from one section to another you get a fleeting, painful glimpse of what you could afford if only you were more successful.

Of course, the ultimate in luxury and good fortune - if you're travelling in economy that is - is to have the seat next to you free. And so you go through that ordeal of wondering if the person walking towards you is the one. But no! He's walked right past. He's got a seat at the back of the plane and not next to me. Snigger. What's more, I can hear them closing the aircraft door. I've done it! I'm home and dry. And then the captain comes on the system to ruin your whole day in seconds. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologise for this delay. We're just waiting for one or two late arrivals" And then you catch sight of him - wobbling down the aisle with a 42-inch waist. Ladies and gentleman I give you Blubberman! He pauses momentarily to check the seat numbers. "Yep, this is the one" he says, gesturing towards the unoccupied seat next to you. Now I ask you - is there a worse feeling in the world?

We all know that few passengers pay attention to the on-board safety demonstration, but they still make me chuckle. Nowadays, the steps are not only presented in the traditional fashion but also via computer-generated images on your personal TV screen. We see the loving mother placing the oxygen mask over her infant's face, smiling as she goes, and we see everyone queuing in commendable orderly fashion to use the life raft - "no, after you, please".
Heaven forbid that big bird does come down and has to perform an emergency landing on water, but if it does, you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean in the dead of night with the water a bone-chilling fifty degrees below. Now I hate to say that I would be the selfish swine throwing women and children behind me in my efforts to find the nearest emergency exit but I can't help feeling that cometh the hour, it'll be the survival of the one with the biggest boots.

"Ladies and Gentleman the plane is now ready for boarding. We'll be boarding the plane in sections starting with rows ten to thirty" Cue a mad rush of people rarely seen outside the opening day of a Harrod's January sale. Why on earth do they bother? Call me callous but I think passengers who attempt to board the plane when they clearly don't possess a ticket in the required section should not only be forced to go to the back of the queue, but they should also be made to sit in the hold. Who knows? Perhaps ten hours of being bumped and bruised by flying luggage might sharpen up their hearing skills a bit.

No matter how many items you place in that plastic tray that goes through the X-ray scanner, there is always a five-baht coin, somewhere in the deep folds of a trouser pocket, which manages to set off the security alarm.

I love airline breakfast menus. How many words and expressions is it possible to use to dress up an omelet and mushrooms? Wild baby mushrooms. Country style eggs, pen-fed Lincolnshire sausage. I can't tell you how sick I am of removing that foil wrapper and seeing the same old bloody omelet.


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