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!