As you’ll know if you’ve read any of my previous stuff, I love air travel.
I won’t drivel on Wordworth stylee about the smell of the fuel, Concorde, memories of my dad, the exciting first glimpse of your actual aircraft, the thrill of the gathering speed and take-off, the exhilaration of soaring through cloud to the higher heavens, the singular other-worldliness of being in a metal tube at 37,000 feet over Mongolia, devouring the cute little meals neatly, the first pee in an aircraft loo, the bedsocks, blankets and pillows of the long-haul, the first glimpse of a somewhere completely new, the wonder of landing and the doors opening and the smell and heat of the new country drifting through the aircraft.
I’ve said enough about all that past blogs.
This last return trip to Hong Kong was no exception. We flew Cathay Pacific for the first time. Son #2 treated me to a premium economy seat on his airmiles. Window, natch. An afternoon take-off meant we were flying into the evening sunset later.
Here’s a small chunk of diary..
‘The plane smells new, which is good. The seats are wide and there’s about 12 inches from my knee to the seat in front plus foot rests which move so you can wiggle your toes.
‘I’m having a gin and tonic with ice and lemon 33,000 feet above – now let me see where are we on the moving world map sponsored by Bedat of Genieve which places its adverts on said map. Not far from Denmark. Out of the window the scene is dark blue above graduating down to ice blue above a vast layer of combed white marshmallow cloud. A short bright slash of jetstream in the distance. Another metal cigar flying its cargo of humanity across the heavens. I never get over the miracle of flight and today is no exception.
‘I’m looking out at the vast jet engine just outside my window. It is edged in satin chrome or maybe aluminium and in the shiny pale blue is a reflection of the aircraft. It’s surreal, which is why I’m typing. It needs to be captured. There are touch screens on the backs of seats here. People are watching films with headphones on – big comfy headphones. I’m probably the only one watching the plane forging its wide yellow stripe north-east across the map.
‘It’s just so beautiful out there, the ever-changing character of the clouds, the blue and the way it’s tinged with peach at the edges now at 6.50pm. What is sunset going to look like from up here?”
In spite of all that semi-euphoria, I have to admit that much of the enjoyment of the flight hinges on who you’ve got sitting around you.
On one Virgin Atlantic flight to HK the Australian woman in the seat in front of me went into full recline mode as soon as she could so I spent almost the entire journey (apart from seatbelts-on turbulent bits and meals) with a book against my nose.
On another, mercifully shorter flight, two people sitting behind us had hair that smelled awful. It was the distinctive odour of unwashed grease that must only emanate from a barnet that hasn’t seen a drop of shampoo for several weeks, if ever.
I remember hissing “WTF?” to Captain Sensible. “How come they can afford £600 return but not a bottle of Head & Shoulders?”
This time, it was on the return journey that we encountered a memorable passenger. I always feel like Eeyore’s deflated balloon on homeward journeys and this was was a bit disappointing as Cathay Pacific technology let me down somewhat.
A glass of chilled champagne made up for the fact that we were 50 minutes late taking off from Hong Kong but then I discovered the live map thing wasn’t working so I only had the iced-up underbelly of the aircraft to look at. This probably wouldn’t matter to most people but when I’m flying half way around the world, I like a map. And stats.
So, I got a couple of hours kip punctuated by sniggering in my sleep.
I should explain here that on the other side of the aisle in a bulkhead seat there was a guy in his late twenties who looks like Kim Jong Il pumped up to 120psi.
He was trendily dressed – if a glorified shellsuit is trendy? – and had the sides of his head shaved artfully, He was very fidgety from the start – he was up and out of his seat and fiddling in his bag as soon as the seatbelt signs were off. His neighbour was a quiet guy. They didn’t speak.
Anyway, after dinner, the lights go down and most people go sleepy-bobos, including KJI. I was dozing or sleeping – until he let rip a couple of explosive bass snorts like an obstreperous elephant seal.
The powerful curling snorts were random with long silences between them sufficient to make me wonder if that was indeed his last breath but they were inevitably followed by an enormous gasp indicative soft palate flapping like a marquee in a force 9.
He was so loud that he could be heard all over the cabin, joltingly intermittent for hours. Cathay’s huge, comfy, noise-cancelling headphones were a partial solution but even they didn’t guarantee complete peace. On a scale of 1 – 10, the guy’s his sleep apnoea was 25.
When breakfast was served, KJL woke, blissfully unaware. After wiping dribble from his chin with the back of his hand, he started bustling about in his bag again.
We buckled up for the descent, he settled back into his seat and unfolded a piece of paper which looked like origami for 3 year olds.
He arranged it over his face. It had eyeholes and a breathing space for his mouth. If wore it and loomed at me through the darkness of a dream I would have been quite alarmed but he was less threatening strapped, fatly immobile into his seat.
To be fair, at that stage he could have worn a camel and no-one would have cared. The entire cabin was just grateful for the silence. The quiet guy sat grimly upright, waiting for the crew to open the doors.
Heathrow take-off – Barnes reservoirs
Yes the sunset was quite something…
…and five minutes later