When I board a flight I resign myself to death.
So, resigned to death, I enter my plane bound from London to Hong Kong. I first pass through business class (I have never been in First class but I could definitely hear a money fight). They should rename it to ‘toddler class’. Since when did so many five year olds needed a lie flat seat and privacy screen? I am 6′ 1″ and consist mainly of legs, all I want to do is shake the kids and tell them how lucky they are to be able to run laps around their seat. But I keep my head down and try to avoid eye contact with their parents.
I watch the little numbers above the seats ascend as I descend into the bowels of the plane. But I never give up that little flicker of hope that seat number 31, my seat, is actually a business class seat. Then I get to seat 30, the last of those in the business class cabin and there is a kid lying completely outstretched between the armrests.
I reach the curtained threshold that separates business from economy. I stall, but behind me is a queue of poor souls, wearing only their neck pillows and tracksuits for comfort, I have no choice but to shuffle onwards into the plane’s anus.
I eventually reach my seat and shove my luggage into the overhead locker among the livestock cages and violin cases. I duck into my seat and stare enviously at the children in business class building forts with their Egyptian cotton duvets, beyond them, in First, a flight attendant is sabering a bottle of champagne. I do my best to appreciate the electrically charged, polyurethane blanket that was left on my seat.
I don’t watch the safety demonstration, I want to look cool not like some scared newbie. Instead, I preoccupy myself with the guy still using his iPhone next to me. I do not want my life imperiled by my neighbours’ urge to play Angry Birds, I express my disapproval by tutting him under my breath and shaking my head excessively. Apparently, when I feel like somebody else is endangering my life, the best I can manage is passive aggressive disapproval. A survivor I am not.
As the plane takes off I suddenly become an expert in aeronautical engineering. “Hmm. I don’t think the flaps should be lowered like that at this point,” I think, “the pilot should have retracted the landing gears by now, and I don’t think the wing should be wobbling”.
The seatbelt sign is extinguished, the clatter of belts unbuckling ripples through the cabin. I open my book, I always bring nine or ten large books onto the plane believing that I will read them all and invariably end up reading nothing. I open War and Peace but as I turn the first page, the cabin lights are turned off. This is so my fellow travellers can spend the next nine hours sitting with their eyes closed but sleeping for a roughly 40 minutes.
Luckily, I am told I can use my “personal reading light”. “Personal” turns out to be a misnomer, as soon as I switch it on everybody in my immediate vicinity is bathed in artificial yellow light. I go to turn it off but accidentally call a flight attendant. One of them pokes their head out from the galley, looking irritated she gets half way up the aisle before I realize my mistake and press the cancel button. I mouth the word “sorry” to her; eyeballing me she makes a slicing motion across her throat with her thumb.
Terrified, I distract myself from the threat by trying to decode the inflight video games, which were seemingly designed by a Soviet mathematician who hates children. I give up and decide to watch reruns of Big Bang Theory instead, but after twenty minutes every capillary in my eyes have exploded and my brain is begging for mercy.
I pace up and down the darkened cabin, counting the people who have draped themselves with their little blankets, like dust covers on unused furniture.
I walk to the rear galley intending to cut through it and do a loop of the cabin. But as I round the corner I encounter a gang of flight attendants. They are all holding mini-bottles of red wine in little paper bags; two are crouching, playing dice against the food trolley, another is giving her colleague a tattoo with a homemade tattoo needle.
They stop and stare at me, I try to pretend that I am using the bathroom but it is occupied. “Oh hey look, it’s that tough guy who didn’t watch our safety demonstration,” says one of them with a particularly fruity accent, he flourishes a flick knife and approaches. I back up against the plane door, cornered. He comes up close brandishing the blade in my face, “you think it’s funny to prank-call an attendant, punk?” He spits the word ‘punk’, I recoil further, “I d- d- did watch it,” I lie.
“Oh yeh?” says his colleague, “then show us the ‘no-seat in front of you’ brace position’.”
I don’t know it, but they have knives and hot towels. I timidly begin to bend from the waist, get onto one knee and place my hands on my face.
“Wrong answer betch”, comes the knifeman’s voice, leaning over he whispers next to my ear, “and now you’re going to have to pay… for this duty free, pocket cheese knife”.
I pay the £6.99 and then hurry back to my seat, I draw my blanket over my head and tell my body that it is okay to die now.