I’m always amazed at the difference between my pre and post flight self, particularly on long hauls. Before boarding I’m optimistic, chipper even, remembering only the highlights – new releases, my own butler, the free toothbrush. Once I’m around six hours in, those pleasant memories are revealed for the lie they are. The food’s not as bad-good as I remembered, my butler’s turned tetchy, and it turns out the toothbrush has three bristles. Even those little individually wrapped parcels of food fail to lighten my mood.
Still, one’s inmates keep it interesting. I’ve had the dribbler, the talker, the chronic cougher, the hypochondriac and worst of all, the mother who thinks you’re as in love with their toddler as they are. One woman basically placed her child on my lap so he could see out the window as we landed, ignoring the fact that he was dropping semi-masticated pieces of food on my lap. As the last dollop descended, she shot me a look that said something along the lines of isn’t he just precious to which I replied this child is about as precious as a tumour.
Humankind can essentially be divided into three types: aisle people, middle seat people and window people. Aisle guy is a saint. He cares nothing for his own comfort and would sooner endure the intermittent bumping of his arm than rouse a sleeping passenger. He is the backbone of society, and without him, we are lost. Window person (myself) lacks that philanthropic bent, and has no issues inconveniencing the two people next to her, even if it is just to do a few laps around the aisle. We are generally self-interested, but our lack of care for others has as its flip side an ambitious, go-getter attitude, which eschews convention and prizes industry. We may not open the doors for people, but we do grease the wheels of human advancement.
I have nothing good to say about the person that willingly chooses the middle seat. He is a psychopath of the highest order, and those who voluntarily select this seat should be flagged on some sort of worldwide watchlist. He gains nothing by being seated where he is – no window views, no welcome post to rest his head on, but he lacks the altruism of the aisle man, content to disturb at least one person with his trip to the toilet. He essentially hates himself and everyone around him.
I can’t speak for the people in business class. They are operating at a different level, and it would be unfair for me to speculate. On the ground the illusion of a classless society is carefully, if imperfectly, maintained. Sure, the parks, roads and schools are better in Claremont, but that may just be a happy coincidence. Perhaps the soil isn’t good in Balga, or speed cameras just don’t happen to work on roads frequented by doctors, lawyers and businessmen. At 40,000 feet any such illusions are shattered. What more concrete evidence of the class divide is there than the crisp whoosh of a heavy curtain separating business from the chattel in economy. I made the mistake of crossing that sacred divide somewhere between Doha and Copenhagen (my bag had been moved there by an air hostess as the overheads were full further back.) In a matter of seconds, I was escorted back to my seat and told that the bag would be brought to me, as though my very presence in that room might bring the mood down.
If the plane ever goes up in flames, I plan to head straight to first class, pour myself a stiff drink, and hold forth on the exclusionary nature of air travel in an apparently caste-free society. I doubt I’ll have the chance to deliver my entire treatise, but my charred remains at the nose end of the plane will speak volumes.
Either way, flying is a young man’s game. The older I get, the less appealing the thought of being trapped onboard an airborne cigar tube for 18 hours, despite the dangling carrot of whatever exotic destination I’m hurtling towards. Bring back the concorde, I say, in all its fuel-guzzling glory – I want to get to Paris in half the time and I don’t care how many baby seals have to die to make that a reality.