Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flying! Grr!

One of the nine planes I have been on in the last two weeks

Well, I've been away for another two weeks so more painting time lost, although I notice from other people's blogs that the hot weather has made things difficult for painting.  My "playroom" as the family calls it, has two glass walls, one of which is south facing.  Good for light but bad in the sun.  If I open one of the French windows (I wonder what they call them in France?) then, in all likelihood the ginger terror that is Harry the Cat will slip into the room and cause havoc.  Now the Legatus, as regular readers of my ramblings will know, has something of a history with ginger terrors but this one is particularly troublesome.  He doesn't pour boiling water on your leg during arguments, insist on being bought chocolate at any hour of the day or night ("I want it now!"), snog other girls at the college ball or drive a Peugeot 204 GTI as if trying to qualify for the Monte Carlo Rally but he has knocked over all my CDs, sat on my Perry plastic Prussians (many are going to have somewhat battle worn bayonets) and this time, during my absence, tipped over the pile of scenic boards I recently bought from Mike at Black Hat Miniatures in order that I had at least some semblance of a battlefield to fight on.  More on them another time.

This was a somewhat gruelling trip as it involved nine flights in two weeks.  Now I hate flying.  Not just find it all a bit inconvenient and tiring.  I hate it!  I am terrified for almost every minute I am inside these hideous, claustrophobic tubes.  Especially if the plane starts to get on the small size.  This time I had to endure an Embraer 190.  This is a mini airliner (it's the 20mm of airliners and I am not a 20mm sort of person) with a nine foot wide cabin (narrower than my playroom) and useless overhead storage.  And its made in Brazil!  The amount of turbulence you experience in planes has gone up enormously since I was travelling a lot in the eighties and nineties.  Turbulence then was a rare occurrence.  Now it seems to be the norm.  I hate it!  I think that either the wings are going to fall off due to chronic metal fatigue or that without lift under the wings the plane will just drop.  Turbulence is a sign that the magic that keeps aeroplanes in the air is wearing thin. Soon there won't be enough magic to go around (a weakening in the Force) and they will all start to drop out of the air.  

Of course the only thing that stresses me as much as the actual flying is all the stressful nonsense around it. Will I get to the airport on time?  I like to get there three hours ahead. Will the security queue be so long that I miss my flight?  Will I fill out the entry form wrongly and get sent to the back of the queue?  (Yes, Miami). Will I be able to work out how on earth all the strange bits of the particular airport work (have you got your departure tax exemption form stamped?  What?) when no one speaks English and if they do it's totally incomprehensible?  I was really glad to get to Houston this morning until I found that I couldn't understand a word that anyone said there either.  

Then there are your fellow passengers.  Grr!  These start to become annoying at check in.  Why do the people in front of me all have to check in five suitcases, a baby stroller, a bicycle and a surfboard?  They should have separate check in desks: Business, Economy and people with annoyingly unconventional luggage.  Next it's security.  People who still don't know you can't take liquids, scissors or toy guns onto planes.  People who take three minutes to remove their jacket, shoes, belt, watch (after being sent back from the metal detector three times) as they didn't realise.  Look at the picture by the detector it makes it all clear!  But no, they are inevitably chatting away on their mobile phones or too their clueless families.  Another idea: a first time flyers lane for clueless travellers.  Then of course, after everything has gone through the X-ray machine, all the plastic trays get clogged up the other side as some woman (inevitably) carefully removes her shoes from the tray and bends down to tie up her gladiator style sandals.  Then she gets her jacket out and makes sure it's sitting just right.  Then gets out the sack of thirty cosmetics and perfumes she has to have and starts putting them carefully in her bag... Just grab your stuff and get out of the way!  Sort it out later!  Get a blooming move on!

Then we get to the gate.  We have the "puts his bag (or laptop) on the seat next to him so he doesn't have to sit next to anyone" person (he probably sits outside empty seats on the train too).   The inevitably ethnic person who sleeps across three seats (we're all tired but we sleep sitting up!) and never has any shoes.  The person who is recharging their phone by stretching a wire across the gangway.  The horrible children who run round and round like a sentient typhoon whilst mother ignores them as she is reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

Speaking of which.  During this visit we were up in a number of airport control towers and what should we find as the between shift reading of one of the lovely young ladies on air traffic control duty?

Now this woman has the Legatus' life in her hands so I hope that after a torrid reading session on the comfy sofa in the tower she can concentrate properly when she goes back on duty. 

Next comes the fun of boarding.  This, as every regular traveller knows is a race.  A race where positioning is as important as a sprint stage of the Tour de France.  The airlines think that boarding by seat numbers or zones (as the Americans do) will mean that those not called will sit in a relaxed manner waiting for their seat or zone to be called.  Not a bit of it.  As soon as any member of the airline staff appears at the gate desk there are always fifteen people who stand up and start to queue in front of the desk.  Even though it's probably thirty minutes until boarding.  These are the people who don't have priority boarding privileges but think they ought to.  When boarding starts they will always try to push into someone else's group in the hope that they will just be let through.  Annoyingly they often are, except on British Airways where they are usually, gratifyingly, sent back where they will lurk like sharks waiting to pounce on the gap before the next group is announced.   Some try the "don't understand English" ploy even though they have been speaking it quite fluently up until that point.  Next all the mewling infants have to be let on board.  On one particularly crowded flight from Edinburgh once, where they were threatening to take hand baggage and put it in the hold (in those days that would have meant you lost an hour, at best, at the other end and probably all the valuables in your luggage too - they didn't call it Thiefrow for nothing), the Legatus kindly helped a young mother with her baby stroller and.consequently jumped the queue in a quite shameless way as he ushered yummy mummy and her brats down the ramp.  I abandoned her at the door of the plane of course, leaving her to cope with the five minute finger-mashing procedure of folding the contraption up on her own (she wasn't that yummy).  Here we need to mention the subset of families who think that having strapping twelve year olds count as young children.  If I was in charge they would have one of those height guides like they do at theme park rides.

Some of the tension of the departure lounge can be relieved by an airline lounge.  In this case my pass got me into the KLM one in Houston

Next we have the wheelchair parade.  You hardly ever see anyone in a wheelchair in real life.  Given the number of handicapped slots in supermarket car parks you would expect the aisles of Sainsburys to look like the start of the London Wheelchair Marathon.  But no.  Yet, as soon as a plane is going to depart a string of people in wheelchairs appear.  Presumably they aren't in Sainsburys because they spend their lives jetting around the world.  Many of these are women of South Asian extraction.  Not the men, they all seem quite fit. Maybe because they have years of pushing their women around, giving them the metabolisms of triathletes. On one flight to Toronto I saw thirteen Indian women in wheelchairs.  Interestingly, while they get on the plane first they get off last.  Fortunately, the flight seems to agree with them as a remarkable number seem to be able to walk off unaided.  Miraculous!

We always enjoy a good model (although that is another story on this trip) but here is the next stage at El Dorado, Bogota

The reason for all this competitiveness becomes clear as you get on the plane having waited patiently for your seat row to be called.  Yes, all the luggage locker space is full.  This is because of all those people who can't count.  One item of hand luggage.  This doesn't mean one wheelie bag with another one placed on top. That's two!  This doesn't mean one, plus one on top plus a handbag big enough to hold every Games Workshop Lord of the Rings supplement, plus a carrier bag containing a ludicrous, locally bought hat, a bottle of water and a copy of Hello! magazine. One bag.  One.  If you have two and haven't paid for the privilege of having more than one you should have your bag taken off you before you board the plane.  This goes for people who take full size suitcases on board and then find they can't fit them in the locker end on, as they are supposed to go, and so lay them sideways on, thereby taking up the space of three people's luggage.  

Next you have to deal with the people who can't read a number and a letter.  Yes, it's those people who sit in your seat as they like the look of it better than yours.  The most brazen try to sit in a seat in the class above.  Again, none of these people speak English when confronted or, indeed, any known language.  

Inside the plane, once you have stowed your luggage you should be able to relax but there are several more types of people that annoy the Legatus due to their onboard behaviour.  First is the type who thinks that the instruction to turn off your electronic devices doesn't apply to them.  They carry on tapping away as the plane backs away from the stand.  I don't know if electronic devices really effect the systems of the aircraft or not but I don't want to risk it thank you very much. Turn it off!  Next is the person who doesn't understand the seat belt sign.  If the seat belt sign is on it means stay in your seat not wander off to the loo, open the lockers to extract your copy of Hello! magazine or have a chat with your friend in the class above on the basis that you might be able top sneak into an empty seat.  Maybe I need the loo after three bottles of rather course chardonnay in an attempt to calm my nerves.  If the seat belt sign is on, however, I don't get up.  Ever. That's because its dangerous to walk about in rough weather.  You can fall on someone or drop your bag on them (which I have seen happen).  

Next we have two more annoying examples seen on overnight flights.  The people who talk constantly all night and those who insist on having their reading lights on full blast all night.  Don't you ever sleep?  Other people are trying to!

At last you arrive at your destination, now usually after twenty minutes of terrifying turbulence just before landing.  As soon as you touch down everyone turns on their mobile phone and starts to get up out of their seat.  We 're still moving!  Sit down!

What it all comes down to, of course, is the number of people who think they are more important than everyone else and that rules don't apply to them.  I hate these people!  The only solution is to put them into a large plane and fly them across the Atlantic with only a ten percent fuel load.  When they have to make a "landing on water", as the airlines euphemistically call it, they won't know how to put their life jackets on as they never watch the safety briefing.  

They'd get trampled by all the wheelchair passengers anyway.


  1. A wonderful rant, and one that brings back many memories. Must admit I am not afraid of flying, just don't enjoy the experience for all the reasons you cite..., the pleasures of cattle-class...

    However when you watch these 'Aircraft Investigation' shows , or recent plane crashes on the news, it does make you think again...

    You have my sympathies Legatus, good sir, and hope your return to good ol' blighty, enjoying a heatwave, fits you well...

  2. Before 9/11/01, I used to enjoy flying. I would fly for business, as I worked for Games Workshop, and I could sometimes get extra accommodations or perks by just asking nicely. "It's your birthday, sir? Well, here are some free headphones to enjoy your movie!"

    Queues were short and shorter, for me, never having to check a bag as one carry-on allowed me to get by.

    Post 9/11, though, I have flown twice (a round trip) and will likely never take a flight again. They search an ancient granny because her metal hip tripped the metal detector/xray machine. Yes, granny is more likely or less likely to threaten the passengers and crew??

    I certainly envy your visiting other climes and countries, but my sympathies for having to fly.

    Now, if we can convince someone that a sailing schooner would be great for passenger travel again, sign me up.

  3. Very entertaining rant. Travelling on business isn't as glamorous as most people seem to believe.

  4. What a fecking excellent rant and I have experienced some of these feckers in my time, great read and made me smile!

  5. Brilliant, Mr H.

    My worst flight experience was coming back to London from Cape Town, on the last day of my honeymoon. The flight was quite full, but I thought I'd got lucky as I was in the middle of 3 and there was no one on the outer seat on my right. But then the final passenger arrived, who had to be the fattest woman I've ever seen in my entire life. Of course she headed straight for my seat. She was so huge that half of her spilled into my seat and because my right side and her left side were in constant contact, within about 10 minutes my right arm and leg were drenched in sweat. People that huge should either be banned from flying altogether or should go on a database and made to buy 2 seats whenever they fly.

  6. .... and.... breathe......

    Welcome back!

  7. You missed out the pompous asses who talk over loudly that they are in cattle class as they were the only seats left and how "BA Premier Up Your Own Butt Class" is their preferred style.

    Amongst others.

  8. Very entertaining read thankyou. I'd have thought you, of all people would have enjoyed the lady bending over fastening her gladiator sandals! Some of us genuinely can't sleep on aircraft and what else can you do coming back from the States at night but read or watch a movie? Baltimore security were extremely kind with me when the xray machine found my newly bought Old Glory 10mm army stashed in the bottom of my back pack "it's like a big lump of.....metal?" . Not so much when this dumbo left my penknife in my bumbag, I got the full search and the detector test for bomb chemicals in my bags.

  9. My worst experience on a plane was thirty years ago in Texas. It was a tiny commuter airliner and I was sitting next to the door, which swung open as we were bombing down the runway. I thought my time had come! A couple of hours sitting in the airport while they fixed the "problem", missed connection to my flight back to LA. Bloody terrifying. Now I'm very loathe to get on anything smaller than a 737.

    Giles, I've often thought that they should have a weighbridge type affair at check-in, where they weigh you and your luggage - and charge by the pound. Who of us hasn't at some point been going on a long trip with a bag packed full to bursting, worried that you might get charged excess baggage - when standing in the next queue is some enormous hunk of lard with just a laptop bag. Of course, no chance of them being charged excess baggage!

  10. Now I only go on a plane 2 or 3 times a year so I still get that childish buzz of going to an airport even if its only squeezy jet to the med. A friend of mine flies 3 or 4 times a week on business and loathes the whole experience with a vengeance. I'm sure he would second everthing you say. It's on par with another friend who was serving in Northern Ireland about 15 years ago and when he returned from a tour there which involved many nights out in the countryside on observation missions, nearly divorced his wife when she suggested a nice walk in the country on the first day he he got back.


  11. Giles you should travel by Tongan Air - they not only weigh your luggage, but YOU as well, the heavier you are, the more you pay... lets hope it catches on internationally!

  12. Don't worry about not understanding the folks in Houston. I live in America and I can't understand them either. There was a nice scene in Gettysburg where Lt. Tom Chamberlain was speaking with three captive Rebs. He had a tough time understanding them. Regional speech is a challenge - I listened to an Aussie broadcast of a rugby match last night and could not undersatnd the announcers.
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon

  13. I love flying and the whole airport experience for many of the reasons you highlight. I find myself deliberately trying to embarrass all those annoying individuals you mention (rarely works because they are oblivious to the real world around them).
    But having flown with my boss who sounds just like you I can fully empathise with you post.