Flying colours 

It occurred to me at 40,000 ft, early this morning, probably somewhere over Chad or the Democratic Republic of Congo, that I should write a post about air travel.  Of course, there are always local idiosyncrasies, however, many aspects are universally true.

Firstly, let’s identify some of the best-loved air travel personalities:

  1. The first-time flyer: this creature is almost invariably to be found at the front of a long queue of increasingly exasperated, more experienced travellers. Upon reaching the check-in desk their passports are always buried deep in a bag, not ready in hand; beeping a minimum of three times at security is almost a requirement. Often nervous on virgin voyages, they are divided into a) the chatterers who distract themselves by narrating their life stories to anyone in earshot; b) the silent arm-rest destroyers, who grip with such force that they leave permanent nail marks as a memento of their trip (the latter are to be preferred).
  2. The executive: recognisable by the small black wheely-case which will be taken as carry-on to avoid delays at baggage reclaim. Rules dictate that this animal be either on an important call or writing an email whilst checking in. They are also extremely adept at spotting queues containing first-time flyers, and avoiding them. Seldom seen after check-in as they disappear to business lounges to avoid contact with the plebs. 
  3. The nester: typically a female in the 18-40 age range, this specimen is a seasoned traveller already and refuses to let travelling “coach” be a barrier to comfort. Upon arriving at their seat they will methodically unpack and arrange all (our most of) the following: neck pillow, vanity case, magazines, wet wipes, eye mask, own blanket, hotel slippers, ear plugs, tooth brush and toothpaste in Ziploc bag, extra hoodie to be deployed when the a/c ramps up. It is to be hoped that they have window seats because, once their temporary home has been installed, it is virtually impossible to get past them.
  4. The young parents + infant combo: when spotted in check-in queues, other passengers in the same sections will immediately risk-assess these small family units, judging current decibels, child behaviour, parent experience and numerous other factors to gauge how much danger might be posed to their personal in-flight comfort. If they survive long-haul flights without inciting homicidal thoughts from their neighbouring passengers, this is a distinct achievement.
  5. The flight attendant nightmare: these come in two forms – a) the hyper-sensitive type who sees cabin crew as personal butlers. These will request extra blankets, meals at odd times, painkillers for imaginary ailments etc. b) stag-do “lad”. Starts off in high spirits, drinks the plane’s bar dry then thinks he is charming by wolf-whistling and making advances to the flight attendant before passing out on the shoulder of the alarmed school-teacher in the neighbouring seat.

There are many other species but I have neither the time note the inclination to produce an exhaustive list.

Now to seating. Unless one has the good fortune to be seated in business/first class, passengers will find themselves with the choice if window or aisle seat. (They may ultimately be ascribed a middle seat, but no one in the history of air travel has ever willingly selected a middle seat.) What is the correct choice? According to a research paper  by Dr. Mark Wiseman of Oxford University that I have just made up, scientific opinion remains divided:

The aisle seat offers easy and immediate toilet access without the need to clamber over fellow passengers. It is the thinking choice for those who wish to drink and those with less capacious bladders. The drawback is that you are necessarily disturbed by any middle- out window-seaters trying to get out.

Window seats offer great views and better headrest options (pillow against wall tactic) and no disturbance, but turns toilet visits into a Cirque de Soleil act.

I’ll keep my eyes open on future flights and will update this post if there are any glaring omissions. Flying from Cape Town to Namibia this afternoon so I may get immediate material.

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