At any one point in time I can be one or more of these travellers worrying about my flight arriving in time for me to make my connection, annoyed by the big burly man next to me taking up the armrest, listening to my Soca too loud on my Beats headphones.
Many of you have this image of traveling being this glamorous affair. Where the women are in heels with full faces of makeup, smooth sailing in the friendly skies. The last 13 years of frequent flying for me have been quite the opposite of glamour whether I was in First Class with John Cleese and Big Pappy or slumming in the Chicken Coop at the back of the plane. Somehow the choice of travel that was reserved for the elite in our grandparents’ time is now an exercise in navigating the masses from all corners of the earth SAFELY but not kindly. The friendly skies are no longer obliging. The days of putting on your Sunday’s best just to get them wrinkled while seated in a smoke-filled cabin are gone. Welcome to the age of “take me as you find me, you’re not getting one over on me, I’ll show these airlines whose boss, we don’t have any money to spend, we’re fighting terrorism, don’t even look at me sideways or I will call the airmarshall to have you removed from the plane”
Now, don’t get me wrong I was living in Boston when Richard Colvin Reid foolishly tried to set his shoes on fire forcing his flight from Paris to land at Logan Airport. I APPRECIATE the extra security measures in place to prevent (as much as possible) another airborne atrocity. Personally, I am always on the lookout for how I can personally prevent reoccurrence (I will take you out with a gummy bear if my adrenaline is pumping hard enough). What I don’t appreciate is the level of sensitivity and entitlement this seems to have allowed airport and airline staff. By this I mean, one question, one mistaken decibel over your indoor voice and there are airport employees threatening to call the army on you. There is no discernment or responsibility for the part they may play in the conversation that is taking place. It’s a bit like that film Meet the Parents when Ben Stiller’s character Greg says bomb on the plane and as a result is taken off and interrogated.
I am not sure if it is just me but it feels like the pace of travel has become more frantic. Everything feels faster. Like the Sheppard is herding his sheep on fast forward. Perhaps it because I am getting older? But even when I have time before my flights there seems to be an urgency to get to the gate, screens flashing status updates at you everywhere. Being asked what time your flight is when you sit down at a restaurant or just to order take-away food. It’s like when you are on your way to the bus stop – you know the bus is not coming for another 30 minutes but as you approach that bus stop, there is an urgency and you start speed walking. This is how I feel every week when I have to commute to work via air travel.
Now when traveling within your own country, city, town you may be surrounded by your familiar – those who share the same practices and customs as you. When you are traveling via airplane there is an increased likelihood (in my opinion) that you will encounter someone who is not like you. So my background is pretty much western(ised). I am not a big fan of people who blown their nose around others in particular in close proximity of food that is being prepared or eaten – this offends me greatly and I find it pretty nasty. I also believe you should cough or sneeze into a napkin, tissue or your elbow limiting the spread of germs. Lastly, if you have working use of your hands, I believe you should cover your mouth with your hand as soon as you begin to yawn (we don’t want to see inside your oral and nasal cavities).
Common sense? Well, that’s what I thought. These three (what I think of as) basic rules of western polite society are what cause me the greatest grief in enclosed spaces, particularly on flights. It is still something I struggle with today, even within my family. I am sorry, I find it disgusting (yes I have on my judg-y hat right now) to sneeze without covering your mouth and nose at all. Manners aside. Let’s discuss the health and safety aspect of not covering one’s nose during a sneeze. The trajectory of a sneeze is estimated to be about 15 feet. So you are sneezing sans tissue and spreading your personal brand of germ 15 feet away from you, how considerate.
You’ve gotten past the rude airport security, managed to make it through check-in, been sneezed on a few times. The plane takes off and then you hit some turbulence. You swear to God you are going to start being kinder to your neighbour, find a husband, give your parents some grandchildren and eat healthier because you just KNOW He is going to take this plane out of the sky with the shaking and rattling. So you let out a scream! Then God accepts your prayers and in the plane smooths out. Your stomach seems to have settled back into place somewhere between your oesophagus and intestines but now the passengers sitting next to you think you are absolutely batty. So you spend the rest of the flight in your book, head down.
But wait! Someone has gone to the bathroom, which is 3 rows away from your seat. Even though you are in Business Class you wonder what that foul smell could possibly be. You’re really upset now because you’ve paid extra cash to sit in this seat and thought surely you would be immune to the sights, sounds and certainly the smells! of economy! But nope, I guess everybody has to go.
Finally you have landed. You are dishevelled, wrinkled, exhausted, but happy, happy to see land, smell fresh air. You wait for your luggage. There’s hordes of people crowding the luggage belt in fact some hippy has just let her toddler just go round the luggage belt with the bags. You don’t fight with the masses to get to your bag. You just wait, drained of energy for the crowd to dissipate and take yours before it goes in the lost luggage pile and mentally prepare yourself for the return journey next week.
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