I travel quite a bit for work, and I also enjoy an overseas holiday, so needless to say, I spend a lot of time in planes and airports. A recent experience got me to thinking “jeez flying just throws you right in there with a whole bunch of crazies, dunnit?!”
Here are just three episodes of my AIR TRAVEL ADVENTURES
If you’ve read my earlier blog about turning 30, you will already be aware that I have a healthy fear of just about everything.
Before I’d even stepped foot onto my first airplane, I knew that flying would be no exception to the rule. I had never even flown domestically before, and my bestie and I were heading for a week-long getaway to Bali. Ah, that joyous rite of passage for all Aussies (or maybe just the bogans?)
From the minute the plane started to move, poor Cheri discovered the approximate length, thickness and general pointiness of my fingernails – as she had them firmly dug into her arm for about the first (and the last) 45 minutes of the flight. When we finally landed and I looked longingly at the ground (about to bend down and kiss it), she gave me a look like ‘don’t you dare get down there and do that – there are armed guards carrying AK-47s over there and they will SHOOT YOU, YOU MENTAL PERSON!”
On the flight home from Bali, I was no less scared, however refrained from drawing the blood of poor Cheri this time, and contented myself with silent screams and protests against the turbulence. The in-flight meal was an ambiguous choice of ‘chicken’ or ‘fish’. I figured it was safer to go with the chicken, this wasn’t Qantas we were flying with, so who knew what ghastly intestinal maladies the ‘fish’ could contain?!
My ‘chicken’ dish turned out to be some kind of curry with plain white rice. Perfect! I chomped away greedily, only to discover a tiny piece of stray capsicum in my rice. Chomp. Only it wasn’t capsicum. It was chili. Red hot, burn-a-giant-hole-in-your-mouth chili. Holy jesus. Some embarrassing hand gestures and miming with the stewardess eventually resulted in a glass of milk for me to drink and sooth my insides briefly.
When I returned to Australia, I was determined to become more ‘worldly’ and to develop my tastes for hot food. I had dinner with some friends at a Thai restaurant (close enough to Indonesian, right?) and did the ‘I’ve just been to Bali, I’ve got this’ look – ordered a green chicken curry and then surreptitiously asked the waitress to make it mild. “No” I said “ stupidly, stupidly Australian mild”. Baby steps, yeah?
I can only assume that the wait staff and kitchen had a running joke on their idiot Australian patrons, as what came out on my plate could in not in my dizziest daydreams ever, EVER be deemed remotely mild. The thing was NAPALM! I swear, I could barely speak. I gesticulated wildly for the waitress and requested a cucumber. “A whole cucumber” she looked confused.
“A whole damn cucumber. Bring me a cucumber!”
I don’t know what exactly she thought I was going to get up to with that cucumber, but what arrived was a totally unhelpful glass of milk.
PANIC ATTACKS AND BAD FLYERS
So, I thought I was a bad flyer. The Bali episode was the first of many flights I would take over the coming years, and while I wouldn’t say I enjoy it these days, I have certainly come a long way.
Never was this more apparent than when I recently took a trip from Cairns to Brisbane for work. When I sat down in seat 3A (right behind the business class section, I can ALMOST feel the smugness emanating from the seats just beyond the partition), I thought I’d scored when, as the plane filled up, no one came to claim the seats next to me. Time to relax and spread out!? Nope. Hustling and bustling their way on, the last two (late) passengers arrived and parked themselves in 3B and 3C.
I returned, unperturbed, to my book and continued reading. Shortly a tap, tap on my arm.
“I just have to let you know” said 3B “I am a really bad flyer”
3C piped up “tell her what you’re really like. She has to sit next to you for two hours!”
“Ok, I’m really, really bad. Like, I sometimes scream.” Oh joy.
“That’s no problem” I said, empathetically “I am a terrible flyer too, I’m sure you’re no worse than me”
We sat for the obligatory waiting around, and eventually the plane started to taxi. 3B and 3C were happily chatting away, two old girlfriends who were obviously on a trip together. As we started to speed up, suddenly 3B stopped mid-conversation and went completely silent. Chancing a glace over, I saw her sitting bolt upright against her chair, hands clenched on each arm rest (I told her she was welcome to mine earlier) and eyes firmly shut. Poor poppet.
Then the groaning started. Oh dear. I don’t know what the people around us thought was going on exactly, but it was certainly entertaining. Guttural noises emanating from the little woman beside me, tears starting to find their way down her cheeks. Her companion seemed uninterested, reading her magazine and largely ignoring poor 3B. Perhaps this was some tough love, perhaps trying to soothe her only made it worse. But I couldn’t just sit there. I patted her on the shoulder and held her arm, “It’s ok, we’re nearly up. Just a bit of turbulence on takeoff, but it’ll be over soon”. This was met with appreciative grunts, but 3B was certainly under the assumption that if she removed her hands from the arm rests or opened her eyes for even a second, the plane would surely crash.
FLYING AA (AEROLINEAS ARGENTINAS)
Long haul flights are never fun unless you’re in business class. And even then, ‘fun’ would be a stretch. No such luck for an upgrade when I flew home from Buenos Aires last year. After backpacking for a month in some dodgy countries, I was truly ready to come home (and to hear some Aussie accents!) I wasn’t lucky enough to score a window seat on this solo voyage, and I could just sense that this flight wasn’t going to go my way. I did, however, score an aisle. I thought that this would at least afford me some space and privacy. Alas, it simply meant being repeatedly accosted by the drinks trolley, or by the elbows (or rather large hind quarters) of passengers rushing to the toilets behind me. Stinky? Yes.
The young couple beside me looked to be first-time flyers judging by the way they had absolutely no idea of how things worked on board a plane. Late to find their seats (again, thought I was going to score a free row!), no plane etiquette, but for the most part they were quiet and (damn them, how did they do it?) sleeping. I have never mastered the art of sleeping on planes.
When we came into that glorious last 2 hours of the flight and the captain announced that we’d soon be able to see land (woo!), things took a turn for the worse in the seats next to me. Miss first-timer was not dealing well with the turbulence and proceeded to fill her sick bag….as well as Mr First-Timer’s….and then mine, when I offered it. In my South American travels I had come across a magical yet unidentified little pill that was excellent for travel-sickness (with the bonus of completely knocking you out!) Miss and Mr First-Timer didn’t speak a word of English, and my Spanish was (and is) appalling, so after several entertaining minutes of mime, young Miss took the pills gratefully and tried not to throw up for the thirty seventh time. I held my breath until we finally landed.
Flying is rarely boring.