In today’s world, almost everyone we know has flown in an airplane. This is especially true if you are an expat living in the Gulf. Year after year, we put ourselves at the mercy of 250 other passengers in a 11ftx100ft space, 35000 feet above the Earth’s surface for the next few longest hours of your life.

What can you expect? Let me break this down for you:

As you pass the business class on your way to the seats, stare at all that leg room you won’t have.  For long haul flights, your economy seat will have the leg space of a Lilliputian at the price of an 18-carat diamond.

Continue your way through to your seat, avoiding all the elbows that randomly jut into your face as they stuff their belongings overhead. Have you ever noticed how the space just above your seat is always full? Somehow, you are left awkwardly jostling around other people’s bags in an attempt to make space for yours. Once you are done huffing and puffing, navigate to your seat. This may mean you shall proceed to awkwardly squeeze through the narrow space between the back of a seat and the face of a stranger; the realest prayer you shall ever say now is ‘Oh Lord! Please don’t let any flatulence betray me!’

You finally settle in, listen to the yada-yada of how to buckle your seat belt, and casually wonder if you should actually turn off your phone or continue battling with Candy Crush level 33. Finally, the plane takes off, and cue the crying! Children, children crying everywhere! Crying babies, squirming toddlers and seat-kicking brats. Can there be anything worse?

(Un)Luckily for you, yes, there is. How about the chatterbox neighbour who absolutely MUST tell you about their wonderful vacation/love life/upcoming wedding/children? They won’t stop talking, and even earphones don’t deter them. Or the nosey neighbour who can’t stop asking about you, your work, relationships; even leaning in to read the in-flight magazine over your shoulder. It’s the exact same magazine, I promise! Just please, read your own copy! Or how about Mr.Smelly-Feet? There should be a ban against taking off shoes on a flight, and an instant ejection of the person from the plane. There is nothing worse than being in a windowless cabin with someone else’s unwashed feet!

You may also be  unlucky enough to meet Mr.Armrest-Hog! This person has probably shared everything else in their life, and fights for the armrest with a vengeance. The conquering of the armrest is probably the only time they shall be able to assert their dominance, and they shall nudge you to death for it. If all that uncomfortable fighting doesn’t cut it for you, say hello to the head in front of you as the passenger reclines his seat all the way. You are now sitting with your knees pushed against your chest, contemplating what is more important: your kidney or a business class seat?

Finally, you have reached cruise-altitude; the plane is stable, seatbelt signs have been turned off, and you need to visit the washroom or risk turning into an inflated balloon with all that gas in you. You walk along the aisle to the back, which is very similar to a walk of shame: everyone stares at you as you make your way to the back of the plane with your eyes glued to the ground. You reach the sanctity of the washroom, and can finally have a little space to yourself; no exaggeration on the ‘little’. You can’t spend more than 5 minutes in the washroom without the fear of oxygen running out or an irate passenger barging in through the flimsy doors.

As you make your way back to your seat, you notice the lovely stewardess has bought out the food trolley. If you are lucky, she has not crossed your seat, and you can rush back to eat and listen to the harmonious sounds of plastic crinkling, food being chewed and drinks being slurped simultaneously by 250 people in an airtight room. If you are unlucky however, you need to stand by the washroom till the entire plane has been served. I recommend twiddling your thumbs and sighing heavily to relieve boredom till you are safely seated and strapped in.

Now that you are fed, you will probably want to sleep for the rest of the journey. You settle in as best as you can, squirming as the toddler behind kicks you and the Armrest Hog still nudges you everytime you unstuck your elbows from your ribcage. The seats have actually been designed for a yet undiscovered species whose torso is longer the lower half of their body, their shoulders rounded to give them a concave back.

You make it safely to the ground accompanied by The Screaming Infants Orchestra which bravely kept up their symphony through the entire landing. The plane slows down after taxiing and moves towards its dock, and inside, people have already begun crowding the aisle regardless of whether the plane has stopped or not. You sit patiently till the doors open and people begin to move out before risking unnecessary body contact with anyone in the aisle. You smile as you leave, glad to be free of your co-passengers forever; only to meet them at the baggage carousel.

Everyone is crowded around a certain section of the belt, sticking their necks out in an attempt to spot their luggage even before the conveyer belt has begun its movement. 30 seconds away from this mob is a deserted stretch of belt, which you walk to leisurely and breathe easy as you wait for your luggage to arrive. Those extra 30 seconds has made all the difference: no arms shooting past your waist to grab bags even before they are within proper reach, no luggage being dropped on your toes and no bratty kids banging into you as they run around after being cooped up for hours on a seat.

You grab your luggage, and navigate through throngs of people towards the exit.

Battered and bruised, you have arrived at your destination. You swear softly to yourself and vow to never travel by a flight again. But you secretly know you really have no option. Every journey has a different story, and each can only extend the boundaries of human stupidity and your patience. But all that seems insignificant when you finally exit the airport to your dream destination!

Bon voyage mes amis.

Photo credit: Airplane!