Friday, 16 January 2015

Come fly with me..

According to Wikipedia (never wrong..), the first fixed wing airline was formed in 1916 by a chap called George Holt Thomas.  He modified military aircraft so they could carry two - yes, two - passengers between Folkestone and Ghent, in Belgium.  It goes on to say that these were 'relief' flights but doesn't clarify who was relieved, the pilots who were responsible, the passengers or maybe both?  It wasn't until 1919 that passengers started paying for a service, £21 to go from Hendon to Paris.  Either way you look at it, it's less than 100 years since people have had the choice to complete their journeys by air and I don't think any of those pioneers would recognise the industry now.

'First class Madam?  You get to sit inside..'.
There are a plethora of little vignettes in any flight, from check in to collecting your suitcase on the carousel, but if you take the time to do some people watching and keep a smile on your face in the mini adversities that it presents, it can be entertaining.

With so many to choose from, which scenario do I write about today:  having to re-pack your suitcase at check-in as it's 2kg overweight when the guy behind is clearly heavier than you by at least 20kg (don't ask me to re-pack, ask him to run round the airport perimeter..), people rushing the gate when they've already been told it's not their time to board, the Herculean efforts to lift a carry on bag in to the overhead locker when it weighs more than a Volkswagen Beetle, people still texting when the plane is taking off even though they've been told 3 times to switch their phones off, the list goes on.  What makes me chuckle is the in-flight meal.

When you're on a plane for longer than maybe 3 hours, I fully appreciate that you may get a bit peckish and the airlines (non-budget types) are keen to show you how well they cater at 35,000 feet.  The trouble is that in an effort to outdo the competition they maybe try a little too hard.  I need to add at this juncture that we tend to fly economy class, like most people probably, so space is at a wee bit of a premium.  The airline would like to cram in as many people as possible to maximise their efficiency and profit, the public would like enough space for luxuries like breathing, moving your toes a bit, not having to link arms Auld Lang Syne style just to open a packet of pretzels.  Certainly if you are fond of your personal space, economy is not for you.

Economy, everybody inhale, now exhale, easier if we do it at the same time.
So it comes to lunch/dinner/breakfast time.  You've read the menu, decided what you'd like and the smell of freshly warmed up ready meals comes wafting down the aisle, where the flight attendants are passing out the trays.  Their trolley is completely blocking the pathway of course, which means they have the usual queue of passengers either side of them trying to get to/from the toilet.  They reach the row of seats in front of you, you're now pretty hungry and eager to see what your fare looks like but wait, the person in front ordered a vegan nut and squash roly-poly and the crew are trying to serve them a vegetarian tofu and lettuce mélange, it's tantamount to Armageddon.  Some bloke in 12B is already half way through the nut and squash offering and is now considering eating the cardboard lid instead, so it's too late to change.  I can read the steward's mind 'really, is it that different?  What do you want me to do, pop out and get another?  Serves you right for having a fussy diet..'.  But he remains calm and professional and the problem is solved with some cream crackers and a yoghurt.  It's your turn.

First class, a bit awkward if you drool or talk in your sleep, 'of course I'll respect you in the morning Brad..'.
You drop down the little table attached to the seat in front of you, which is probably in the reclined position, restricting your elbow room even more (is it not good etiquette to ask before reclining your seat?  Just asking..) and it's then you realise the food tray is the same size as the little table, so whatever you do everything has to stay on the platter unless you're fortunate and have no-one sitting next to you.  It's an impressive array of dishes, a veritable feast, a marvel of culinary expertise and spacial design as everything is arranged like a edible jigsaw with not a micron of space to spare.  

Therein lies a problem because the food is packed in containers with lids and once you've uncovered your lunch all this packaging has to be put somewhere.  So you commence the game I call 'Aircraft Eating Jenga' (pat and trademark pending) and start to skill fully move items around so that you can get at the meal one bit at a time without causing a catastrophic collapse of the pile.  Smoked salmon salad to start, followed by chicken with potatoes and veg, then a chocolate dessert, then cheese and biscuits, then bread (should I have eaten that first?  Too late.), a drink, a cup for your tea, a tiny chocolate, cutlery, a napkin, a refreshing hand wipe (lemon scented), a cuddly toy, a Teasmaid. The list goes on and I finally realise that with this mental ability and hand eye dexterity I would be quite good at doing a Rubrics Cube if I applied myself to the task. Then when something falls on the floor it's like playing Kim's Game by yourself and in an extraordinarily confined space.

Bon appétit, elbows in please.

Often it's when you're mid way through this trauma that the person sitting next to you asks if you could move so they can get out to use the facilities.  'Move?' you ask, 'I've suspended my heart beat while I do this as it was taking up too much room..'.  The relief when the attendant comes along to take away the remains is wonderful, like the feeling when you have the inset of your shoe scrunched up under the sole of your foot all day and then you finally get to sort it out.  You can now relax to watch the movie, on a screen which is closer to your eye ball that your eye lid, with the headset kindly provided by the airline (has this really been sterilised?) because for an unknown reason it is the only place on the planet where you need twin plugs on your ear wear?

Suffice to say I'm saving up my airline loyalty points for an upgrade to first class, by my reckoning I should achieve this goal in about 20 years, it's good to have a dream.