The only mildly amusing moment during the flight was seeing a man emerge from the bathroom with a raging erection.
He was in there for awhile — a long while — which on long-hauls usually means said toilet is being absolutely wrecked for the benefit of the next poor sap in line; you expect the stench, you look down and hope for dry spots among the dried urine puddles. In this case, it may have been wise to scan for other unsanitary conditions before settling in, but fortunately it wasn’t my problem since I bore witness to The Great Erection of Jet Airways Flight 119 from my bathroom-facing exit row seat. (I used the other bathrooms for the remainder of the flight.)
I had other problems to worry about.
Like the woman seated next to me, who was dressed like Violet Beauregarde after chewing her three-course dinner, which is to say she looked like a fucking blueberry. Upon her arrival she and her twentysomething daughter sat down and began eyeing the overhead luggage compartments like hyenas circling a wounded deer (or, if you must, like Augustus Gloop surveying the Chocolate Room). I thought this strange since they weren’t carrying anything more than two purses and a laptop bag. They were transfixed on one particular compartment — I mean staring at it and whispering about it — one which within 10 minutes became completely filled.
(Terrorists! OMG they’re terrorists!)
There were others available, but the woman wanted that one. “He stole it… he stole it!,” she hissed to her daughter. I’m not exaggerating when I say she almost broke into tears. The daughter tried to calm her down, but she was salty for the whole flight. Apparently this woman’s nervous tick is making repeated, sweeping swings of her long, stringy black mane, repeatedly as in throughout the eight-hour flight from London to Mumbai. Why she didn’t claim that most sacred of storage compartments on arrival, I do not know, but by the time The Man with the Bathroom Erection revealed himself I certainly did know how it felt having one’s ears and neck whipped with long, stringy black hair.
She was delightful compared to the family on the other side of the aisle.
There were three seats for the four of them: two in bulkhead, and one in the middle of the row behind it. They wanted to sit together, of course, which lead to guilt-tripping the woman on the aisle into giving up her seat — one which she may have chosen in advance, like most normal people do who care where they sit — and moving to the middle bulkhead seat, sandwiched between women nursing babies fresh from the womb.
To keep their young, insanely spastic boy entertained during the eight-hour flight, mom and dad thoughtfully packed a single toy: a stuffed horse with legs fashioned out of rattles. To summarize, the restless kid was given four rattles to shake at will for eight hours. Dad, of course, tuned out the rattling and everthing else; one row up mom kinda-sorta tried to subdue her screaming babe, one which bore an uncanny resemblence to Yoda. Newborns tend to get the screaming out of the way on the ground before blessedly passing out during the flight, but this little demon demanded satisfaction — loudly — for approximately seven of the eight-odd hours of flight time.
At least I could pass the time by drowning out the rattling and blood-curdling screams with movies. Except, not really, as the headphones jack had eroded to such a degree that the highest emitted volume was just north of mute. I watched films while holding the headphones tightly down on my ears, my hands periodically brushed by hair whips.
A flight attendant served me scalding hot tea, which I didn’t realize was quite that scalding until I went to take the first sip and a fat kid bumbled by, bumped my elbow, and spilled it all over me.
Earlier, the last party to board the plane was another family of four, this one led by a father ranting about Pampers. “No! No! What about the Pampers? AND NOW THE BABY’S PAMPERS! Can’t you see the baby needs new pampers?!”
This was directed at a flight attendant asking him to be seated. His wife and child cowering behind him, he threw his bags down — this lovely little escapade unfolded in front of me, in the same spot where I’d later meet The Man with the Bathroom Erection — and continued bellowing about pampers, visa problems, and of course not being seated together. After the froth stopped flying from his mouth, he toned his voice down, slightly, and began pleading his case to the passengers, myself included, as if we were all in this Jet boondoggle together.
Okay, The Great Pampers Speech was almost as amusing as The Erection Incident.
I fly a lot; at least one roundtrip flight most months, sometimes more. I don’t particularly enjoy being sequestered with so many random people in such tight quarters for such a long time; the supposed romance of the flight is just not something I understand. I do, of course, enjoy what comes in between the flights.
After air travelers are on the ground, we often tell our friends or family or loved one that it was “a good flight” or “a bad flight.” The food was great, the movie selection was great, it was quiet, it was a good flight. The food sucked, there were no personal screens, tons of turbulence, it was a bad flight. The truth is, if I’ve learned or come to realize anything this year it’s that every flight that lands safely is a good flight.
I don’t have any poignant, powerful comments about this rash of awful commercial airline disasters in 2014 — sorry. These crashes have, however, put things like my “bad flight” from London to Mumbai into a much different perspective. I was lucky to be on that bad flight, just as I’ve been lucky to be on all those countless other bad flights with the screaming banshees and the mean people blowing up the bathrooms and the delays and the hardcore turbulence. We landed. We continued on. It was a great flight.
These past few weeks I’ve thought a lot about the families and friends of those who’ve died in these disasters.
Sometimes lost in the geopolitical debates about Russia and the Ukraine, in questions of competency for Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government, in the “search for MH370,” in the “crazy” stories of coincidence surrounding the ill-fated passengers, in the media frenzies that turn these events into slick, exploitative, click-through coverage packages, is the very real, raw fact that these are people — these were fellow travelers just like you and I — who are gone for no good reason. It’s such a sad, sad, almost incomprehensible loss of life. Really, it doesn’t matter how or why or where or what happens next; what matters most is just that it did.
Every air traveler’s worst fear happened to these poor people. Friends and family who were out grocery shopping or drinking or sleeping when these wrecks happened are, almost immediately, left to conspiracy theories, and stories about body storage, about body parts, about “remembering the victims.” With MH17, especially, we’ve heard a lot about the horror on the ground; I think the horror back home for these people is much worse. I really can’t imagine what they’re going through and I surely hope I never have to find out.
My flight from London to Mumbai on July 10 took us across the Ukraine, just south of Donetsk, before continuing on over parts of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan on our way to India. I was surrounded by annoying people and their ill-behaved children. A passenger ranted about Pampers, a fat kid spilled hot tea all over me, and the sound barely worked on the in-flight entertainment. Some guy came out of the bathroom with a huge boner.
It was a good flight.