I’ve had the unfortunate fortune to spend a lot of time on planes recently. I’m fortunate because they took me somewhere I love being, if only it didn’t take so damn long to get there.
Long haul flights are bearable – just – so long as we abide by certain rules. Don’t talk to me, unless offering a hot towel, food and drink or, in an emergency, offering to assist me in gouging out the eyes of the moron who’s stopped beside me to get at his hand luggage. There are no exceptions to the second rule: don’t touch me. Never keen on human contact, all I want on a long plane journey is to be left alone to hunker down with the seatback TV, a copy of the New Yorker and the sound of my sanity folding itself up and slipping into the overhead bins at around hour eight.
On this trip, however, nobody had read the factsheet. Boarded early at Amsterdam and settled into my seat (on the aisle of the middle four), the Japanese couple with the middle allocation arrived. They snuck up from behind so I didn’t see them coming but still, there was no attempt to get my attention or generally indicate their presence before the woman started literally climbing across me to get to her seat.
“Woah, hang on, let me get out, no, stop, oh God that’s your arse in my face, please, just wait,” I said, but as I was to be constantly reminded over the next fortnight, my Japanese is abysmal and English isn’t that commonly spoken by the natives. At least that’s my hope, since I muttered “for fuck’s sake” as I finally vacated my seat and let her husband through. Later in the flight, the woman vaulted the person sitting in the other aisle seat on her return from the loo.
All right, I thought, maybe just this one woman is nuts, or too shy to attempt communication with horrible Westerners. Until a couple of hours later when I saw a middle-aged European woman stand on the armrests to get past a man sitting in an aisle seat. Did she know him? I don’t know. I hope so. He was definitely awake though, and appeared to be neither disabled nor halfwitted and thus, I assume, able to stand the fuck up.
Is this a thing now? Are people now too lazy to stand up for others, or has it suddenly become acceptable to clamber over one another? Is it a new sexual fetish I missed while reading the New Yorker rather than Cosmo? Or has society descended to the point where we can’t be arsed to expend a couple of seconds to say “excuse me”?
On the return leg, the airline upgraded my schlubby cheap seat to ‘Economy Comfort’, right at the front of the cabin. Nice. I was slightly less happy to see a woman with a baby across the aisle. But, you know, families have to fly as well, and I’d have headphones for when it started screaming.
Except screaming wasn’t the problem. I don’t know this baby’s age; as is going to become very clear, I’m not the maternal type. Whatever the age is where they’re still breastfeeding and able to toddle about. And mum saw absolutely no problem with letting baby wander around the plane. Including into the row where I was sitting. She helped it walk over to the window. Now, there’s improved legroom in Economy Comfort, but not that fucking much. Then she left it to explore its surroundings, which included my TV screen and legs.
Increasing horror doubtless apparent all over my face, mum says “Oh, is he bothering you?”. Yes. Yes, he’s bothering me, smearing his breastmilk-and-sputum coated fingers across everything in sight. Rather than say this, I more politically highlighted the face mask I was wearing to shield my increasing attempts to cough up a lung (when we all start to die in a few weeks of a hybrid Asian-European flu, I apologise now as patient zero) and said something about how it’d be better if the fruit of her womb wasn’t in my immediate spluttering zone.
This was all while still at the gate. During take off, the kid sat on her lap and she pointed at things out the window, finger hovering inches from my nose. When the seatbelt signs were off, the baby went free range again and nearly got run over by the drinks trolley appearing from behind the business class curtain. (At one point he went running into business class, with mum aware but unconcerned. Cabin crew had to ask her not to let this happen again.) I myself had to dislodge the baby’s fingers from an abandoned dinner tray, which it was about to pull down on itself, and swiftly remove from my own table a bottle of water and tumbler of (medicinal) brandy when the kid got curious again. Maybe I should have left it to its own devices and had a guilt-free conversation with a steward along the lines of: “Please may I have another large glass of free booze, as my last is soaking into this child”.
Personal space. It shouldn’t be hard. Even on planes, where several hundred bodies are densely packed together, we all have delineated areas. Respect mine and I won’t have to cause an international incident. You have been warned.