Air Travel: Gross Class

The British Airways flight back to Heathrow from Hong Kong was supposed to be good.

We’d paid a little extra for those double seats right at the back of the 747 aircraft with a bit of extra room between the window passenger and the window, which provides more leg-stretching space for the ankle twirls or any complex toe choreography that you might indulge in on a twelve and a half hour flight.

The flight was full but we managed to get some locker room for the two regulation sized cabin bags and sat down with anticipation levels high. This London-Hong Kong-Tokyo-Hong Kong-London holiday has involved 34 hours of air travel and while Captain Sensible merely endures it, to me it’s still a joy…well it was until we found our seats.

I got an immediate whiff of filth. The whiff was followed closely by a whiff-whiff, and furthermore a whiff-whiff-whiffs as the people directly in front took their seats. Then the whiffing was replaced by a constant odour of real filth.

Human odours too variable to describe but perhaps the most common are the acrid pong of unwashed sporty person wearing sporty unwashed shirt, there is the wafting BO which used to be demonstrated by shop workers in unwashed polyester uniforms. But this was the strong lasting odour of proper filth that only comes from months and perhaps years of dedicated soap-dodging.

I’m not good with odours. I’ve never had to be. Capt Sensible’s pheromones are composed entirely of Imperial Leather and his sweaty badminton, cycling and gym kit moves seamlessly from sports bag to washing machine to ensure minimum contact with surrounding air. At the cinema I have had to change seats to avoid being distracted for an entire film by the smell of an unwashed head of hair in front of me. This smell from my fellow passenger(s) was nauseating and considering the prospect of twelve hours imprisoned with it (it was a full plane so there wasn’t any room for manouevre) made me a bit desperate. I thought maybe I could beg a filtering face-mask from one of the nice Cantonese people on board. In Honk Kong and Tokyo it’s common for anyone who’s ill or has the sniffles, to wear a surgical mask. It’s supposed to help prevent the spread of their infection – it also enables them to sneeze into it, thus avoiding super-efficient dissemination of their many millions of teeny infected sputum droplets.

Capt Sensible could smell it too, but thought it was coming from the old guy the other side of the aisle to his left.I was convinced it was from the bloke in front. He was big-built with gold-framed specs, unshaved and about 65 with a tweedy shirt and lots of newspapers to read. He looked like an unkempt academic. His partner – wife probably – had the greasiest hair I’ve seen on a woman. It was several shades darker than blonde it might have been and you could see the exact lines where she had pulled a comb through. It must have felt like pulling a comb through lard. I couldn’t quite believe it was coming from her. Her nails were clean but she did blow her nose into a tissue and take a good long look at it, which nauseated me all over again.

It was so gross that I had to spray a little perfume into the air around us. The floral scent of the insecticidal spray that the cabin crew sprayed around also helped for a short time.

It still seemed wrong that someone that cavalier with their personal hygiene could afford the massive cost of air travel. Until then I’d mistakenly believed that intensely smelly people were usually found on the bench at bus stations swigging from meths bottles. What was this person doing inflicting his own Bugger-All Hygiene choice on an aircraft full of fully-paid up passengers?

If people like that are going to fly, the airlines should create a new section in the cabin: Gross Class. You should have to tick a box on the booking form if you Never Wash Clothes or Body, Never Wash Clothes or if you Need Two Seats. There should be further tick boxes for those who  think it’s fine to pick their noses in public or dispose of old chewing gum where other people are likely to sit.

It’s more difficult to create the other essential compartment of the aircraft;  Antisocial Class.  The tickbox booking sheet would have to make provision for:

Person Who Talks Loudly When Everyone Else is Asleep

Person Who Eats Home-made Egg Sandwiches

Person Who Always Has Their Seat Reclined

Person With Sharp Elbows Who Fights for Both Armrests

Person Who Leaves His/Her Light On Through the Night

Person With Persistent Uncontrolled Flatulence

Second thoughts, scratch that. It would never work. These are traits people just don’t recognise in themselves and even if did they definitely wouldn’t want to sit with others with similar habits!


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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15 Responses to Air Travel: Gross Class

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Oh misery! Like you, I have a good sense of smell. A previous boss thought I had missed my calling as a sommelier.
    So did you have to stick it out for twelve hours? Whatdid you do? Sue and I were once on a short flight, hopping across the US from her home in Boston to Houston. There was a dreadful pong. Our accusing eyes fell on first one passenger then a next, until we saw the offenders, a pair of trainers sitting footless under a seat. They should have carried one of those yellow poison signs.
    Can I add hair products to your list of anti-social smells? And, having worked in schools when Lynx first came on the market, that product always makes me think of little boys who think anti perspirant rules out the need for a wash.

    • janh1 says:

      Laughing about the adolescent Lynx pong, Isobel! Do think there’s still time to train as a sommelier? I think I may have missed my calling too!! 😀

      Well once the aircraft was aloft and the proper air con kicked in, it wasn’t too bad…and I slept for 6-7 hours, which also helped. The rank trainers sound pretty bad, so you have had your share of suffering! Thing is, that anywhere else, you can remove yourself but on a packed aircraft, there is no choice but to put up with it, which I quite frankly, resent, given the price of the seats!!

      • IsobelandCat says:

        You can’t remove yourself from a class you are about to teach on the grounds that half of them have applied enough Lynx to destroy the ozone layer, and your mucus membrane is reeling from the chemicals.
        On a school trip once, we gave the usual personal hygiene chat on the first night. i’m alright, said one fourteen-year-old, and produced three cans of Lynx from his bag. 🙂

      • janh1 says:

        True. Lynxiness not not next to Godliness. 🙂 Whoever thought Lynx smelled ok anyway? And remember Brut? My brother used to spray that on by the gallon. Don’t know how any girls could penetrate the Brut layer to get near him really… 😉

  2. Pseu says:

    Oh, poor you.

    I have encountered the great unwashed, in many places…. but particularly remember once in the swimming pool. That was hard to bear. The greasy smell carries over the surface of the water and gets in your nostrils each time you come up for air. (Yeaurck)

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Pseu – oh nooooo! Really? Eeeeeew. I never imagined that sort of trouble in a swimming pool. I can excuse it at work because people are ill or not really firing on all cylinders and we are very liberal with the air fresheners. But elsewhere? Nah. Soap is cheap.

  3. John Gamblin says:

    YUK! I don’t no wether to laugh or cry – takes me back to my childhood when deodrants were certainly not the norm, everyone smoked and hung cheap air fresheners in their cars. I think I’ll miss breakfast today 😦

    • janh1 says:

      Sorry G! 😉 My parents both smoked so you can imagine the misery of car journeys for me and my bro, despite the presence of the little “traffic light” air freshener. At least the experience turned us both into confirmed, lifelong non-smokers 🙂

  4. Oh Jan, I can’t think of anything worse! Olfactory hell! I bet getting off the plane was sweet indeed.

  5. Loved this! There is just nothing so ghastly as unwashed human – and unwashed clothes. I remember standing behind a chap in the PO queue once and eventually decided it wasn’t just him, it was his trousers that a)were standing up on their own and b)had never seen the inside of a washing machine. Eventually I left the queue – couldn’t stand it any longer. Old unwashed people are the worst – because there seem to be a lot of them about.
    What is it with Lynx? When my boys were at boarding school, the living quarters REEKED of Lynx. I used to think it was marginally better than reeking of dirty socks, but it is a horrible smell! And yes, I also remember Brut and always hated that for the same reason as you!
    You need to add another box to your airline list – Screaming toddlers
    And by the way, I agree with the comment I saw somewhere, your posts are so enjoyable, who cares how long they are?!

    Having trouble posting comments so will try the trust facebook route instead

    Writing from the Edge

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Lorely, sniggering here at the Lynx reference… perhaps it’s because it was cheap and all the boys got buckets of the stuff for Christmas. A bit like Old Spice. No bloke would ever buy that for himself, would he?? 😀

      Oh how could I forget Screaming Toddlers?? Son #2 once arrived at Heathrow almost driven demented by the screams of a baby sitting in front of him for the HK-Heathrow journey…. Somehow wasn’t a comfort to learn from me that the child must have been ill…

      There was a baby on the Gross Class flight actually but it only started up as we were descending and obviously no-one thought to give the poor mite a bottle or something to suck to ease the ear discomfort. Crying but comparatively short duration!

  6. IsobelandCat says:

    Cousin’s husband has bought himself some Brut. god knows why. It took me straight back to being a Saturday girl in Boots. I worked on the men’s counter, and the number of men who would come in and spray themselves with the testers every week would make your eyes water.

  7. Actually, have to say I love Old Spice. And there are the most wonderful Old Spice ads out there as well…

    (Have devised this cunning plan whereby I can comment on WordPress sites (hitherto impossible for some reason best known to WordPress! I have a WordPress blogsite now – which I only use for commenting…!)
    Writing from the Edge

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