After coming back from an incredible trip for work in Swaziland, I have had more experiences on airplane travel to last me a lifetime. We had about 23 hours of actual time on the flying machines both ways, and I had a few experiences that I’d like to go ahead reflect upon (and slightly rant about) now.
1. Airplane Food
First off, forgive me for starting it the most cliche way possible. It’s just my mind always goes to food first, and I guess airplane food is any stand-up comedian’s classic topic to reference. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was actually very impressed by the food on these planes. From beef stroganoff to chicken in tomato cream sauce to honey dijon salad dressing to buttered croissants, it was definitely satisfying for being thousands of feet up in the air. The thing is, it’s not the taste or portions of the meal–it’s the aftermath on our bodies. If I am sitting in a cramped seat, suffocated by my blanket because it’s about 50 degrees in the cabin, and keep touching elbows and knees with the strange man next to me, the last thing I want is to irritate my bowels with creamy, heavy foods. These catalysts for a gassy disaster need to be replaced by subtler, less heavy foods.
Not only that, but because the cart only comes around once for a meal, many of us feel like we will die if we miss this opportunity. So we greedily take everything from the tray and stuff as much as we can into our bodies, knowing that we didn’t want to pay ten bucks for a “sandwich” that’s really just a slice of turkey on week-old bread at the café before the gate. To top it off, we have to eat it quickly because we don’t want to miss the clean up cart with the tray compartments either. So here we sit, stuffing our faces like wolves after a hunt, in a cramped space, and doing our best to not knock over our ginger ale (because we think we’re so smart to choose the drink that gets you the whole can) while using a fork and knife to cut open the beef brisket smothered in barbeque sauce.
But the battle doesn’t end at satiation, it only begins. The fight is with God’s most natural creation for humor–flatulence. I must have sat with the man that had given up the moment he let the first bite of buttered bread into his mouth. He probably knew that there was no fighting such a force, and that even shame or common courtesy for the young Asian American woman next to him couldn’t hold him back. That man freakin’ farted so much that I wished with all my might that I could break open the window next to me and let the vacuum force just pull him right out of his seat to save us all.
On the plane, we are monsters, setting ourselves up for embarrassment at the bathroom, which leads me to point #2 (hehe…number two…)
#2. The Bathroom
The world’s smallest bathroom for a hundred plus people has to be on the airplane. You have enough room to pivot and position yourself on the toilet, and for men, it varies depending on what number you have to release. I know I can’t complain and ask for a huge bathroom–what a waste it would be to take up more profitable seats from the airline to accommodate my natural flow. I do wish the bathroom did have more handlebars, where I could grip and hold onto during turbulence. I find myself stressing muscles at points where it counteracts with the necessity to relax them during release, just to make sure I don’t either fall off or into the toilet.
Furthermore, the tiny space is exacerbated by the thundering sound of the flushing toilet. Every time I press that button, I feel like I will be sucked into this vortex, with nowhere to escape. And when you come out of what you think is a near-death experience, all eyes are on you because the lavatory is situated in a place where your private moments are there for all to interpret. The bathroom is a stage, front and center, where bored enough people from the audience might count the amount of time you’re in it and make assumptions. More than two minutes leads people to prepare to breathe through their mouths, and more than five minutes will caution people to just “give it some time.”
If I’m in there for a while, I don’t want people to remember me as “that girl that took a fat dump because she was in there for like five minutes.” But what do I do? I can’t hold up a sign or go on the intercom and inform everyone that I was merely washing my face and trying not to fall in the toilet. That the person before me was the one that stank up this place. And so you suck it up, hoping to go at a time when everyone’s too busy sleeping or passing gas during a movie.
#3. Young Ones
This is the only time I dislike children. I don’t care if you are the cutest kid, with the biggest eyes and roundest face–I wish we had separate tiny airplanes that could be attached to the 747, like a sidecar for your bike. The inevitable restlessness of a young human being is expressed not through introverted thoughts, logical reasoning, or a simple deep sigh, but through piercing screams and everlasting crying. I personally know many parents who have to go through the nightmare of traveling with their young ones, and run through an extensive list of ways to calm them. But if only we could find a way to help those of us who have traveled to the point of feeling like a wailing baby ourselves, while giving admirable parents a break. And there is always forgiveness in those new to the world, who don’t understand there are other people on the plane that are very much affected by the noise coming out of them.
But then there are children: those who have reached an age that can understand reasoning and being considerate to others. On every flight, you will find that one evil child who understands their actions and yet could care less that kicking your seat, moving their chair up and down, and staring at you for hours to get your attention will drive you to madness. As a parent, you might defend your child’s actions and tell me that he/she doesn’t know any better, which is why they keep doing it. Children who do not feel remorse from doing something bad is what we call the beginnings of a serial killer. Unless you can tell me that your child is seeing a psychiatrist so that we don’t have to read about him or her in the papers, you have a role as a parent to discipline them. I am not their parent or teacher. Do your part and be the considerate one if your child “does not know any better.”
One thing I am grateful for is the individual television screens filled with movies, TV shows, music, and games to shut kids up for hours. A whole rugby team of junior high boys came on our flight from South Africa to London, and our theories on the rowdiness of the group were proved very wrong by their addiction to media. Media entertainment had saved us all from the possibility that these boys would turn our cabin into a jungle gym. They simply put in their headphones and was sucked into the tiny little screen for the entire 10-hour flight.
There is so much more I could go on about–the continued growth in ranking people by class and separating us by a linen curtain, the awkward etiquette of getting out of your middle or window seat, or the snoring person next to you that keeps leaning on you as if your shoulder had an uncontrollable magnetic force. But I think this is good for now, as I don’t want this blog to define my life-changing trip to Africa.
This is Amy Hu signing off for September 25th, 2012.