It was a great holiday, but it’s a long flight home.
Boarding the plane, you walk through first class and think, wow these would be nice. The next area also looks good, nice broad seats, not too bad, you think to yourself.
Then you arrive at standard (ie third!) class and see what you’ve let yourself in for.
The most horrific airplane seating I’ve ever seen, packed in tight as possible, absolutely horrible just to look at never mind sit in.
It was a conscious decision not to upgrade, because it was something ridiculous like £600 extra on the price of the holiday. Surely you can put up with anything, you think to yourself, to save £600.
But it’s scandalous. I’ve had better seats on charter flights, on all sorts of other short-haul airlines and airplanes. Now I’m facing seven hours in conditions like these!
Yes, I’m large, but I can still generally fit in standard seats without having to suffer constant pain from the armrests, hour after hour. Not so here.
Yes, I sometimes have to ask for a seat belt extension, but I often don’t – it varies exactly how fat various airlines/seatbelt designers deem to be acceptable. Of course here I do.
But the legroom is atrocious. The distance between your nose and the seat in front of you is way too small, and that’s before the person in front of you puts their seat back.
This has become the bane of any flight I’m on, the terror and then annoyance at the fact that the person in front of you can make themselves comfortable by reclining their seat, at the expense of your space and comfort, and of course without asking you if it’s okay first.
I find this particularly difficult because I’m big in the first place, and if you have the tray table down in front of you, possibly with food/hot drinks on, it really causes anxiety to think that someone might suddenly do it and hence thrust the table into your stomach and spill hot liquid all over you.
I have contemplated, recently, anticipating this by asking people politely to please let me know if and when they plan to recline their seat, but to date I haven’t dared. You know how it is, people don’t care, protect their own interests, are likely just to say to you – well, you can tip your own seat back. Except I wouldn’t, because I’d be aware of the discomfort and inconvenience caused to those behind me!
On this particular flight I had a dreadful problem with this because it was an overnight flight and the person in front immediately reclined their seat. Using the tray table was out of the question. Moving at all was pretty impossible – the seat back in front was literally about 3 or 4 inches from my nose.
I tried asking the staff to get the person not to recline their seat, but they were unsympathetic – definitely on the side of the recliner, actually saying they were asleep and they didn’t want to wake them!
The thing is, I’ve had a sitting problem as well – an issue with the base of my spine that means I get bad pain after more than about an hour sitting in one place. Usually – even on flights – this can be managed by moving around a little, and getting up as often as possible, but in this case it was extremely difficult.
I had to give up, and for the bulk of a seven hour flight stood up in a corridor at the back, near the toilets.
There was a little stewardess seat at one side, and for a while one member of staff allowed me to sit on this, but then someone else came along and told me it was strictly not allowed, telling me off despite my explaining that I was only sitting there because I’d been told it was okay!
Don’t know how I got through that awful night – mainly standing up and without sleep. Tried to get in to my seat once or twice but such a squeeze it was horrific.
It would have been alright without the reclined seat issue. 90% of the seats in the plane weren’t reclined – 90% of people were obviously sensitive to how it affects the person behind them. The other 10% didn’t care and went for self-interest.
I was SO angry at that person, I really wanted to say something. Like, don’t you realise you’ve made this flight a nightmare for me? How can you be so selfish? Couldn’t you perhaps think that you’d make it particularly difficult for a larger person if you put your seat back for seven hours? Can’t we do a deal and you only put it back for half the time, so I don’t have to stand in the corridor hour after hour?
So much for my horrific flight experience – desperately tired, hideously angry, back hurting, feet hurting, feeling embarrassed and awkward, hot and uncomfortable, standing by a smelly toilet. Aaargh!
A ‘place’ I remember, but didn’t enjoy.
A ‘place’ that wasn’t actually a place, but a vector drawn through the air, way up high! A ‘place’ hundreds of miles long!
But generally I enjoy flights. I used to count them carefully, but lost count at around 36; will have to update that sometime.
I don’t get scared, in fact I find the take offs, particularly, exciting. I always love that wonderful acceleration, going faster and faster, feeling the push on your body, such a thrill. The moment when you think it can’t possibly be going fast enough to leave the ground, but obviously they know what they’re doing and it does. The moment when your stomach lurches with the ascent, and then you start to worry a bit as turbulence throws you around and makes you feel sick.
Clearly the human animal did not evolve with the anticipation of flying round in airplanes, so I always feel like there’s some part of your mind that just won’t accept and can’t really take in that it’s happening.
Yes you can sit there consciously reminding yourself every second that you’re in a little box hurtling through the air, miles up, totally at the mercy of loose bolts, birds flying into the engine, sudden storms, pilot error, instrument malfunction and who knows what else.
You can dwell on the amount of empty space between you and the surface of the planet, and how long it would take you to fall through it, and how it might feel to be in a crash, and how much it might hurt.
You can imagine that you’re just a few minutes away from your last ever breath, your last ever thought. You can worry about the terror and panic you would feel if something suddenly went wrong. You’ve seen enough disaster movies that force you to consider all this, so you can’t help considering it occasionally.
You can plan what your last words might be, what final annoyance might present itself. (Damn, I’ll miss finding out who won the Tour de France this year. Who on earth’s going to sort out all that paperwork in my bedroom?)
But I reckon something in your body just doesn’t really believe and accept where you are. It’s unnatural to be covering so much ground so quickly. How can there be whole countries passing beneath you? You can’t take in the distance you’re travelling from home – oh, your mind can know it as a fact, but your body can’t feel it, can’t accept it.
So my philosophy recently with flights is just to totally take them for granted, assume everything will be alright, and deliberately try not to think about where you are and the chance of imminent death. It’s the only way.
Sometimes, if you’re reading a book or watching a film, you can genuinely forget for a minute. Feel like you’re just sitting at home, or on a bus or a train.
I rather like that.
The greater the proportion of the flight you can spend not thinking about where you are, the better, I reckon.
Assume you’re in the version of reality – the ‘trouser of time’ as Terry Pratchett says – where you land safely and don’t crash.
Leave the crash to an alternate universe!