When you are booking a plane ticket, the last thing on your mind is how painful long haul flights are. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of your trip and forget just how far away from Australia EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD IS.
And that means hours upon hours upon hours on a plane.
I just spent the past two days experiencing such a nightmare. And while a good nights sleep and some decent food have fixed me right up, the prospect of doing it all again in a fortnight already has me saving the sleeping pills for the flight home.
The first hurdle in your flightmare is checking in. You are already a little anxious about the impending flight, and all those questions about liquids, aerosols and dangerous objects suddenly have you second guessing the deodorant you threw in your carry on. Airport security is no laughing matter, but neither is sitting next to someone who hasn’t showered in 24 hours.
With bags checked in, you join the never ending line at customs. Where are you going? How long will you be there? Why are you going? How much will you spend? What is your aunt’s sister’s mother’s maiden name? And then they don’t even stamp the passport you are clutching in your hand for dear life!
A glass of champagne to calm the nerves before you get on a plane for 24 hours will set you back $15, and then it’s the waiting game while airport staff do their best to ensure your suitcase makes it onto the right plane, along with hundreds of other suitcases that all look the same.
And then finally, you are boarding. Hastily texting final goodbyes to loved ones before they announce you have to switch your devices off, you walk onto that plane with all the excitement in the world – until you arrive at your seat to discover you are next to the window and the man in 36B probably shouldn’t have had his deodorant confiscated.
We were very lucky with our aisle mate on the Melbourne to London leg – a lovely girl bound for Switzerland who smiled every time we asked her to get up so we could stand in the queue to use the loo and probably had to put up with our incessant chatting far more than most passengers.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the three in front of us. Mr and Mrs ‘we have Sony headphones and we aren’t afraid to use them’, together with Professor no manners never hesitated to push their seats back into full reclining mode without a glance back to see what we were doing, and their pillows and belongings seemed to regularly creep back through the gaps in the seats until we were forced to gently push them back.
While our air attendants (I don’t know what the politically correct term is these days) were pleasant enough, I can forgive them for their moments of weakness – after all, not only are they on a long haul flight too, they are supposed to be enthusiastic about it the whole way. That whole ‘enjoy your flight’ thing is the biggest marketing scam, ever.
As my travelling companion and I are both Gluten Intolerant, we have the benefit of being fed first. Amazing, you might think. Awesome, to feel special and be treated somewhat above the other economy passengers – you know, falling right under business and first class in the scheme of things.
Not so. You get fed first? That means that tray has to sit on your lap until they clear the rest of the plane. You have no hope of getting out of your seat for a good hour or more, and chances are you have finished your ‘special’ meal by the time the ‘real’ meals arrive and suddenly your egg white with mushrooms and spinach look pretty blasé next to the French toast the girl on the aisle has.
You’ve been fed and watered, so the next logical step is for the lights to go out and the big screen to come to life. Oh, wait – that’s the cinema. The screens on your A380 are a little smaller but fabulously interactive – you can even tell the guy in 21C that you thought he was a bit of allright via ‘seat chat’. Networking at 35,000 feet or the weirdest kind of stalker dating?
This is basically how the rest of the flight goes. Eat, sleep, change planes, repeat. Listen to the dulcet tones of the crying babies and lament the fact that you didn’t go on a cruise ship. Every airport you enter will rescreen your carry on baggage, and have different rules about what is acceptable. Heathrow will give you a full body pat down if you make the scanner beep, but the French barely glance up from their computer as you flash your passport on the way through.
Thirty six hours after entering the international departure lounge at Melbourne airport, we arrived in Paris. Four airports and only one passport stamp. Enough rice and chicken to last a lifetime and a very strong desire to never have to queue for anything, ever again.
And the best part? We get to do it all again in a fortnight.