In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
Well folks, it’s been a while. My prolonged absence from regaling you with tales of my own social ineptitude has two explanations. Firstly I was home from the city and therefore had reassuringly few opportunities for social situations to botch spectacularly. And secondly I have only just returned from having a whale of a time in Italy.
But seeing as adventures are not nearly so interesting to write and read about as misadventures, and having fun isn’t really funny unless you’re the one having it, this is not going to be about my first immersement into Italian life. (I’ll write about that later if nothing else interesting happens.) Instead, this is about that tricky business of getting from home to somewhere more exciting, and back again, without losing all of your possessions, getting arrested for attempting to take liquids onto a plane, being thrown into a foreign jail following a terrible misunderstanding involving some Turkish Delight, or perishing in a fiery plane crash somewhere in the middle of the Alps.
Quite ignoring the pre-travel rituals of packing, a process which usually involves some sort of list if your mother has anything to do with it, and arriving at the airport with a near neurotic length of time before the actual departure of the aircraft, having checked 5 billion and 7 times that you do have your own passport and won’t have to try to get through UK border control pretending to be a 62-year-old man with a beard because you accidentally picked up your Dad’s passport. Yes, ignoring all of that, air travel still poses a number of difficulties to the unseasoned traveller.
1) Let’s be methodical about this and start with checking in shall we (after all, there is no fun like organised fun). This almost inevitably involves queueing. Now, we Brits like a good queue, they reassure us that we must be standing in the right place, and inching slowly in the right direction. But airport queues seem to be particularly arduous. You almost always seem to find yourself stationed behind a group of men on a stag-do, complete with beer-bellies, shaven heads, and matching football shirts with names like “Fat Baz” printed on the back; or a young couple having a domestic over the relative size of their suitcases.
If travelling with your family then you can usually have a fairly stress-free queue as Dad will be taking charge of all the necessary travel documents (no such luck if you happen to be Dad as then the entire fate of the family holiday rests in your shirt pocket). If travelling alone then you will acquire a nervous tic, periodically checking for your passport and ticket, and having small anuerisms when you can’t immediately lay your hands on them.
The comforting buffer of hours until the plane leaves without you slowly trickle away as people in front of you fail to grasp the concept that if your hand luggage doesn’t fit in the thingy then you have to check it in, and that, no matter how exasperated you get, the check in lady is only ever going to say “you’ll have to take it up with Customer Services madam”, until you finally deposit your luggage wondering if you will ever see it again and hoping that it has a nice holiday without you in the Lost & Found department of an unidentified European airport. Then at least you are free to pass through security feeling inexplicably guilty and suspicious, and praying that you didn’t accidentally put all of the sun cream in your hand luggage.
2) Having made it through duty-free without being crushed by a toppling pile of giant cigarette packets, and having walked and travelated down miles of terminal corridors to find the correct gate, you may or may not find yourself finally seated on the aircraft which will hopefully take you to your chosen destination. After being welcomed onboard by a woman who may have once had a face underneath what appears to be the entire No7 cosmetics range but it’s now very hard to tell, and stowing your luggage securely in the overhead lockers, it’s time to find out who you’re sitting next to. This can be a pivotal moment in your journey.
On my outbound flight I was sharing an armrest with a grey-haired man who proceeded to tell me that he had swapped seats with his son so that he could sit next to his friend, and that he was taking them both to Italy because they’d been offered contracts with an Italian rugby team. You can imagine my dismay. But it was ok, the grey-haired man was nice, we talked about books and he offered me mints (which left me pondering whether, at the age of 20, it is now permissible to accept sweets from strangers.)
3) Next comes the safety briefing. I can’t really say this is an annoyance, as I’m sure we’d all rather not die because we didn’t know that we’re supposed to tie the life jacket in a bow at the side. However, there are several moments in this in-flight entertainment that I can’t help finding really quite amusing.
The first is when they say “in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, or if oxygen is required, masks will drop down. Place the mask over your face and breathe normally.” Which is all well and good, except how is anyone, who isn’t an evil robot or somehow immune to fear, going to manage to “breathe normally” when there is something going wrong with the aircraft at 37,000 feet? How is there going to be a single person not slightly hyperventilating while the words OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE run through their poor, panic-stricken brains?
The second is when they move on to life jackets. At this point they have to remind us not to inflate them until we are outside the aircraft, which always amuses me because I get a mental image of everyone panicking, inflating their jackets too soon and getting wedged in the emergency exits. Because that’s funny, in a macabre sort of a way.
They also have to tell us that if our life jackets don’t inflate then we can inflate them ourselves by blowing into the pipe. This has got to make you wonder how long you would have to tread icy Atlantic water, whilst breathing normally enough to blow into a little pipe, before you would have successfully inflated your own life jacket. I have a nasty suspicion that you would probably have drowned, frozen or been eaten by a shark by that point. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Oh no, at least you have a whistle and an LED light to aid your survival.
4) Once you have fastened your seatbelt, stowed away your tray, and made sure that your seat is in the upright position with the armrests down. And once you have thundered down the runway trying not to think about the fact that you are essentially being launched into the air in a metal tube full of people named Darren and Tracey, you are finally in flight and on your way. At this point the Captain usually decides it’s time to introduce himself (or herself, on my way home from Italy I had a female pilot, but in the interests of not bitch-slapping Emmeline Pankhurst back into the kitchen I will refrain from making a comment about women drivers.)
Along with the pilot’s nonchalant tones (does he sound tired to you? That can’t be good), drifting over the tannoy comes the realisation that you are entrusting your life to a person that you never actually meet face-to-face. In fact, they could have just recorded someone who sounds trustworthy for the announcements and you’re actually being piloted by a maniac called Spike.
And with that thought, I shall leave you, happy holidays everyone!