The International Flight

I’ve been called a people watcher.  While it’s an apt description, I prefer to refer to myself by a more technical term: “Adjunct Sociological Researcher”.

I’m naturally curious about people, and even more curious about why they are doing what they are doing when they are doing it.

Many people with this same affliction travel to shopping malls and sports arenas to carry out their investigative urges. I try to do it whenever and wherever possible. Business meetings, social settings, and special events are large-scale opportunities to do what I just naturally do.

That said, I just completed a marathon plane voyage to and from Africa.

48 hours,
20,000 miles,
9 time zones,
4 planes.

What follows are my non-scientific observations and under-researched findings about the people and idiosyncrasies of international flight:

Seats at the back of the plane are reserved for the poor and/or desperate.
When you first board a plane, you file past beautiful, hygenicially superior people seated in large thrones which feature massage functionality and computerized entertainment systems.  These people are a joy to both look, and sniff, at.

As you near your seat at the back of the plane the scene grows increasingly grim.

Both the seats and the people get smaller, uglier, and hairy-er.  walking to the back of a plane is like descending into the bowels of the Titanic; by the time you get to rows 30 and higher the people look as if they have been shoveling coal into engine furnaces.

Each person you pass looks more tired and disheveled than the last.  Just getting into your seat feels like a relief… until you glimpse your reflection in the window and realize that you are most certainly sitting in the proper section.

After 5 hours no one on the plane is happy anymore.
Passing the 5 hour mark means that people are going to start eating and then using the restrooms en masse.  On an international flight you are going to be eating at least two meals, and one of them will be breakfast.  This means that each person on the plane will be consuming some form of disgusting breakfast meat, one “sweaty” egg product, and in the case of flights originating in England: beans.

Some people may crack at hour 3, but by hours 5, every person on the plane is irritable and crabby… and the good news is that you still aren’t halfway there yet.

There are no “Family Values” on planes.
Historians agree that every great human civilization values the family unit, and  I suggest that you will have to leave our planet if you are looking for a civilization that values family less than a 777 flying over an ocean.

A family with children boarding a plane begins the travel version of Russian Roulette.  Every other panicked passenger is thinking, “Dear Lord, please don’t let them sit behind me.”  The husband is thinking, “We should have driven”, and the poor wife is thinking, “Why didn’t his parents fly to see US?”.

Here’s who I met on these flights:

The Rank and File
Every international flight seems to feature several “snorers”, an unseen “sniffer”, a child with a “filthy diaper”, at least one “vomiter”,  and one person clearly afflicted with the consumption… per seating class.

The Ginger Ale Drinkers
Let’s get this straight people, Ginger Ale is such an unpopular beverage that restaurants don’t even carry it.  It’s clearly a hold-over from the “Laura Ingalls Age” of sweets, like anise root or marzipan, but put people on an airplane and they begin begging for it like it’s the backdoor at a timeshare presentation.

Ginger Ale Drinkers are constantly asking “for the can” or “No Ice Please”, and don’t give me the, “it settles my stomach”  line Mr. Ginger Drinker, so does Sprite AND Pepto-Bismol, but you don’t see everybody bothering the Flight Attendants for either of those after the service carts have been put away!

The Loud Talker
Sometimes The Loud Talker is hearing impaired, sometimes their ears are full of pressure, sometimes they’re just wearing their noise-canceling headphones, but regardless of what causes the situation, this person has lost all ability to regulate the volume of their voice.  Whether they are describing their bladder infection to a spouse, or over enunciating the words “G-i-n-g-e-r  A-l-e” to the stewardess, The Loud Talker is clearly living in their own state of mind… a state of mind that is intent on conquering yours.

The Aisle Talker
Do you know what’s worse than someone talking too loud on the plane?  Someone getting out of their seat a few rows up, walking back to your aisle seat and then beginning a lengthy conversation with the person sitting next to you.

This person will talk for so long that they will inevitably get tired and begin resting their chin on their crossed arms on the back of your seat.  Now they are towering above your personal space while carrying on their scintillating conversation.

The only way that this becomes worse is when they begin talking to the person across the aisle from you, presenting your face with their back-end for the duration of their chit-chat.

Attention Aisle Talkers: the airplane is not an ideal place for casual conversation but if you must talk to your friend on the flight, please do everyone a favor and arrange to sit with your friend by buying a ticket for the seat next to them. It’s possible. We have computers.

Safari Couple
Safari Couple arrives at the airport dressed for adventure!  Quite often they wear coordinating colors of the same Columbia Sportswear outfit:

UV blocking, moisture wicking, fly fishing shirt
“Concealed” mini purse secured by neck lanyard
Microfiber pants with zip-off legs
Vest with 10,000 pockets
Orthopedic shoes
Gilligan hat
Fanny Pack

I’ve learned that There’s a safari couple on every flight, even if it’s headed to Banff in February.

Mr. I Don’t Check My Baggage
Evidently Mr. I Don’t Check My Baggage’s bags are so important that he can’t be separated from them for 12 hours.  It’s not because he’s cheap, on an international flight you get 2 free bags.  He’s clearly not a professional traveller, no regular flyer would pack that much stuff into a bag small enough to be carried like an armful of wood, but too big to be jammed into an overhead bin.

It seems that he’s bent on having his stuff with him at all times, and by “with him” I clearly mean “in the bin above my seat”, so that it can keep falling all over me whenever he happens to be rifling through it, and by “whenever he happens to be rifling through it” I clearly mean “whenever the seatbelt light is off.”

Sometimes you run across a Ms. I Don’t Check My Baggage, and to her I would say that If you can’t lift it above your head, you can’t carry it on.

Walk Around Guy
Walk Around Guy has a very specific plan for dealing with the extreme boredom and muscle atrophy that accompanies a 12 hour plane flight. He gets up and strolls around.  Walk Around Guy delights in seeing how far forward he can walk from his seat (right up to the first class curtain) and then walking back down the opposite aisle that he came from.  Once he hits the southern border of his new territory (the rear galley) he crosses at the lavatory and returns by the way he came. After determining the boundaries of his domain, he then begins meandering in circles until the “fasten seatbelt” sign forces him to return home.

He’s the air travel equivalent of a beagle.

Because he tacitly understands that no one approves of his unnerving wandering, he refuses to look directly at anyone- especially when he’s walking to the back of the plane.  His unfocused, zombie-like gaze never finds a resting place. Since he usually begins his constitutional after the cabin darkens, he creeps everybody out by haunting the aisles of the plane like a Dickensian spook.

Conclusion

If you must cross an ocean this summer, and you aren’t beautiful or rich enough to ride first class, I beg you, please try do so without inflicting even more damage on the already frail humanity traveling coach.

I’m certain that the champagne breakfast and gourmet supper voyages of the 19th century took more time to cross the ocean than the jumbo jet, but they can’t have taken more years off of our lives than the average oblivious air traveller does.

I know that the steamship is no longer available to us, but if it was, imagine the people watching options it would provide…

6 Responses to “The International Flight”

  1. Rick July 6, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Excellent presentation. Very enjoyable read and accurate sociological research.

  2. Darcy Hansen July 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Thanks for the heads up before my trip to Rwanda next week. Tears rolling down the face from laughing so hard!! So I am a bit of all of the people you mentioned. What catagory does that put me in, Dr. Furman? Total headcase? ;)

    • Jon July 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      Well I think we’re all a little bit of at least one of these people… I’m the secret sniffer. Have a great trip!

  3. Amee Lihme July 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Jon- you give Jerry Seinfeld a run for his money with this observational humor!

    • Jon July 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

      Thanks Amee, hope you guys are doing well!

  4. Brian July 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    For the record, I have cans of ginger ale in my refrigerator. It’s delicious!

Leave a Reply:

XHTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>