Because of the various ridiculous places my family live, I get to do a lot of flying around when it’s time to do some duty visits. Fabulous – I love to travel to different places. If I’m honest, I also love the journey itself. Not in a big, metaphorical, ‘enjoy the moment’ way. I like the simplicity of purpose of going somewhere. Specifically, I enjoy the quiet space of time between getting through security and getting on the aeroplane. I genuinely love hanging around airports. There’s so much to do! Not least of which is people watching, but I get ahead of myself.
The very best part about waiting around in airports is the total lack of obligation. You don’t have to contact anyone, and if anything goes wrong in the real world once you’re through security – hey, you’re airside. No one can expect you to do anything about it once you’re airside. You’re technically in the air! Pah, what could you possibly sort out from 30,000 feet in the sky? Don’t be ridiculous.
Chill out, buy overpriced food and coffee and waste time in a way you haven’t been able to do since high school. Your biggest worry is whether you have enough charge on your laptop to play minesweeper for a couple of hours.
Now, the downside of air travel is the bit where you actually have to travel by air. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared of flying or plunging to my death in a fiery crash. No, no, it’s much worse than that. The mild irritation that comes from close proximity to strangers at sixteen-hour stretches? That’s what kills me. I have noticed there are certain “types” of people you could end up next to on a flight, and I’ve noted a couple of them here.
It’s nice to meet new people. We all like having friends. But sometimes, y’know, there’s a point where it just gets awkward. After about ten or maybe twenty minutes of discussion, you realise you don’t want to keep up this conversation for the next several hours. If you’re both normal people, you recognise this moment, and you proceed to politely ignore each other’s existence until it’s time to leave. This point will pass unnoticed by The Talker. The Talker not only wants to tell you all about his or her own life in astounding intricacy, they are also intimately interested in your life.
No hints, gentle or otherwise, will deter this person from ‘getting to know you’. Sure, it’s good to be civil and polite to people around you. But most people aren’t interested in cultivating a deep and rewarding friendship on an international flight. The Talker is different; your seat number means that you just made friends for life, whether you wanted to or not. Flying is like a giant sleepover with your new best friend! It’s not creepy, necessarily. If it does get creepy, you gotta shut that convo down, my friend.
Be prepared to feign sleep for a reprieve.
I like The Sleeper. They’re quiet and peaceful, and any occasional head-lolling can be easily sorted out by a gentle nudge. The only problem with Sleepers is that you feel phenomenally guilty waking them up if you need to get by to use the toilet. Word of warning: Don’t try some kind of balancing/acrobatic act to get past without waking them up. The Sleeper always wakes up when you’re in your most compromising position, possibly awkwardly half straddling them. No one wants to wake up to that. No one. That’s just embarrassing for everyone involved.
The ones who need more than one seat, but refuse to buy two. So, as a result, you give up half of your seat to billowing folds of flab. You don’t want to say anything, because you don’t want to be rude. Instead, you spend the whole flight raging internally, sending The Fatty psychic hate vibes, but smiling politely if you accidentally catch their eye.
The Mother with Baby
We all know how this goes down. If the kid is quiet, it’s totally fine. If it isn’t, you are not going to be sleeping. And if it’s breastfeeding time, things could potentially get very awkward, very fast. Where to put the eyes? Don’t look at the nipple! But don’t look like you’re trying really hard not to look – don’t be so prudish! It’s the miracle of life, people! The miracle! Appreciate it! Don’t be awkward… Oh god, you looked at the nipple. And she saw. Yeah, she looks pretty uncomfortable. Stop looking at her breasts, you perve!
The Gap Yah Student
(Reference to friends across the pond: here. Yes, these kinds of people do exist. Really.)
Now, Gap Yah Students come in an interesting variety. There are those who have genuinely done something worthwhile and interesting with their time, and are useful members of the human species. Then there are the ones who have gone off for a holiday in the sun because Daddy thought it’d be a good idea. And after all, what else does one have to spend one’s trust fund on? I mean, all the ponies are well taken care of, and you totally have to experience some, like, culture and countries and stuff at this time of life, right? Yah? Yah. These kids are woefully misinformed about the nature of the charity work that they have just taken part in, and often aren’t really sure how to locate where they have been on a map.
They can be dangerously similar to The Talker, but with the less than tantalizing added scent of three months without a shower.
Speaking of peculiar pungency…
The One with Oppressive B.O.
Euuughhh. Okay, I know, travelling can be stressful and sweaty and horrible. But please – if you notice people flinching when you raise your arms, find something to quell the flow of perspiration. Or at least mask the scent. Maybe a fresh t-shirt? I don’t know, but for the love of god, put the arms down! It’s like biochemical warfare in here, people!
(NOTE: Generally only to be found in business/first. Not steerage with the rest of us common folk.) I rarely come into contact with the Business(person). Generally I just see them boarding before me, and I envy their pretty little tickets. One day… ONE DAY, I will join them on the other side of that flimsy curtain! One day, I will be the one receiving free champagne on take off! Hey, you gotta have goals, right?
The Frequent Flier
This person does not want to exchange more than the most basic of civilities with you. They are polite, but not necessarily very tolerant of delays caused by incompetence. They’ll eat the meals, watch a few films, sleep a little. If they’re feeling crazy, they might even get out their laptops. I generally like these people, and I kind of hope I’m one of them.
Bliss. The empty seats. The holy grail of economy class. Recently, I was on a flight where I had a whole row to myself. A whole row! That never happens! It was beautiful. Keep an eye out for any other eagle eyed passengers who have noticed your stroke of luck; they will be trying to muscle in. Take my advice. Stretch out, take up as much room as possible with all your belongings and become strategically deaf to the pleading entreaties of the less fortunate travellers.
As I type this up, I’m at a gate waiting to board, wondering what type of person I’ll be sat next to. Cataloguing these people has made me realise what category that I belong in – Weird Staring Girl (Judgemental).
To be honest, the cross-section of society you get at airports is fascinating, and it’s intriguing to watch how people behave and interact in this strange not-quite-world.
I’d definitely much rather watch than interact. Voyeuristic? Perhaps. But the fact remains that whilst in a jam-packed sardine tin being catapulted through the air, I don’t really want to deal with prolonged social interaction. If I did, I’d probably find out that I kind of like most people. Then where would the fun of judgemental observation be? Gone, I tell you, GONE!