We all have boarded a flight, walked nervously down the aircraft aisle, looked ahead with fear and trepidation thinking, “Who and what the hell will I be seated next to?” Will it be the ghastly passenger who has not heard of deodorant? Will it be the very large person overlapping into my seat? Or will I have the misfortune to be seated with the compulsive talker who gives me their life story before the plane gets off the tarmac? Maybe I’ll be lucky and have the complainer who does not like the blanket quality. I hope it is not the dreaded recliner or the partially drunk worker, who has come from the oilrig and is returning home. It is unlikely he knows what day it is but if he has Gaelic blood he will be my best friend by the end of the flight.
Having taken over 600 flights, I have had my fair share of annoyers in both economy and business class, enjoying the good, the bad and the downright ugly experiences. So much so that I started to write my first book, the title of which was to be ‘Carry on Flying’. I was gazumped by Air Babylon, and other similarly titled books. I lost heart, kept my stories, recovered my motivation, wrote more stories and “The Whinging Pome To The Point” was born.
Recently boarding a UL Sri Lankan flight (‘UL’ if you live in Sri Lanka means Usually Late) to Mumbai, I spot the potential annoyers. Muttering under my breath, I head down the aircraft aisle. Entering the economy class cabin, I hear a very refined English voice complaining about lack of legroom. The voice belongs to a rather smart, leggy lady, the wrong side of 50, but very well preserved. I am relieved to find that I am seated in the emergency door row of seats. S lady sits next to me with sick bag firmly in hand. Sadly, it is not the leggie lady I had seen earlier who I hoped would be my travelling companion. The flight takes off. The sick bag is not needed, and I am doubly blessed. The sick bag and lady decide that I am not their idea of a good travelling companion and move to another seat.
As we level out and the seat belt sign goes off, Lily from Chicago sits in my row. She is very chatty, lively, flirtatious, and yes, this is the leggie lady that I had spotted earlier. Her looks are enhanced by her Indian origins. Soon, we are touring the globe sharing stories of our travels and adventures. Her dream is to visit Egypt. I have been to Egypt a few times, and recite the story of Lady Abydos, born in 1904, whose real name was Dorothy Louise Eady of Blackheath, South London. This lady, as a child, fell down a flight of stairs, and started having dreams about Egypt. Some say she was also gibbering in an unknown language, later to be established as ancient Egyptian. She married an Egyptian, visited the temple of Abydos, and believed this is where she lived with her Pharaoh husband in a previous life. She lived there for years, until she died of old age. Lily was a strong believer in previous lives, and shares many such stories with me. I could not but help think she was the Venus de Milo of Chicago. Beautiful but quite harmless!
Later in the flight lily’s husband needed to answer the call of nature and staggered from economy class to business class to use the toilet. He was surprised to be stopped by a flight attendant who refused him access as he was travelling economy. Unfazed he asked the attendant:
“Are you not aware of the new aviation rules? Anyone over 70 is allowed to access to any toilet on a flight, irrespective of which class he or she is flying.” The sentence was delivered with such deadpan finality, the attendant clearly had no idea whether he was being serious or his words were a complete fabrication. He duly passes through to the business class toilet, with the attendant showing him the way and opening the door for him. Definitely worth a try on your next flight, but don’t expect it to work.
The smelly, overweight, chatters, recliners, complainers, together with their alcohol fuelled travel companions, are the bane of our lives when flying. We all know the best seat on a plane is the one with empty seats on either side of it. But never prejudge! The Whinging Pome Random Rules, Rule 22: Always engage with those sitting next to you on a flight, but very quickly make an assessment whether such an engagement is going to be worthwhile. If not, apply The Whinging Pome Random Rules, Rule 52: Cease all contact and employ diversionary tactics. If Rule No 52 fails, invoke The Whinging Pome Random Rules, Rule 202: Travel First Class. If you don’t, your children will.