NOËL Coward once travelled by passenger liner from Shanghai to London and on an economy class flight back to Melbourne from London with my family after a Christmas/New Year break, I found myself reading his poetic account of the trip, P&O 1930, in his Collected Verse.
Long-haul flights are a drawback of expat life and hauls don’t come much longer than England to Australia. The contrast between Coward’s descriptions of 1930s shipboard life, with its concerts, intrigues and dressing for dinner at the captain’s table, and the cattle truck reality of modern travel made it far from ideal reading for someone who had just heaved their luggage off the carousel.
Of course, comparing a 1930s P&O liner and an A380 “Super Jumbo” in 2009 is to rather miss the point, for over recent decades travel has been democratised. In Noel’s era, most of us would have been stuck in a terraced house, our experience of the world limited to the BBC Home Service. The fact remains, though, that air travel, when measured by most yardsticks, is not overly pleasant. Some dislikes – the food, the toilet facilities and “destroying the planet” – can probably be taken as givens, but here are a few other pet hates you may or may not share.
• Arriving at check in and asking for one of the seats with the extra legroom (I am over six feet tall) by the emergency exit. I am then informed that they are all taken. On boarding the plane, I invariably find them occupied by smug-looking short people.
• Couples (always couples) with 10 pieces of hand luggage, each obviously bigger than regulations allow. They then spend 10 minutes trying to get them into the overhead lockers, all the while discussing it in loud voices, while the rest of us wait to get past.
• The baggage carousel, which always delivers my bags last, regardless of whether I have checked in early, late, or in between.
• The map of the flight path. Some years ago, when my son was at boarding school in Suffolk, I noticed how the frequent drives from Surrey were made worse when I started to recognise minor landmarks: “I’ve just passed that McDonald’s on the A12 near Ipswich so there’s another 53 minutes to go.” The flight path on the “in-flight entertainment unit” allows you to indulge in a more worldly version: “We’re just passing Uzbekistan so it’s another six hours to the stopover in Hong Kong.”
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