Fasten Your Seatbelts…

A long time and many mes ago, I used to travel a lot. Mostly by plane. I liked going to new places, I just didn’t particularly like the bit which got you from one place to another. Waiting in airports was not so bad, I quite enjoyed the people watching opportunity. I used to make up stories about all the people around me to while away the waiting.

Being stuck on a plane was a different matter entirely. Plummeting out of the sky didn’t bother me as much as the fact that I was assigned a seat and had to live with the lottery that is who is going to end up sitting next to you.

I’ve been on planes which had an engine blow, been tossed around by the turbulence of an electrical storm, made emergency landings and been redirected elsewhere because of a security risk, none of these affected my calm as much as being next to a passenger who overflowed their seat into mine… not weight wise, but ego wise. People who have a larger girth than the inflight accommodation tend to be very considerate, people who have big egos don’t.

There is a certain unspoken and unwritten etiquette on planes. You’re all stuck together in an enclosed space for a certain amount of time and you have to make things work and be as comfortable as possible under such circumstances. So you up your politeness levels.

Once I had to give up my leg space so a mother could watch her baby sleep in its cot. That I didn’t mind, other than the fact that when we landed I wasn’t sure if my legs would actually work. It was a while ago, so the rules of travel were slightly different, more flexible and whatnot. The baby was very sweet and slept the entire time, the mother was being a very caring mother. I did try to give up my seat, but there was no spare seat on the plane for me to move to. So we did the best we could with limited options.

That’s part of being human and sharing a planet or a plane. You reach agreements and make compromises. Sometimes they are in your favour, sometimes they are for the benefit of someone else. Karma points and such.

The first rule of unspoken and unwritten etiquette of plane seating is that you acknowledge your neighbour, then ignore them politely for the rest of the flight unless otherwise instructed by circumstances. I have met and conversed with some fascinating people. Usually this has happened on short flights, long flights… another matter entirely.

One day I was flying long haul. I had prepared myself by choosing a big book to read, one which I knew would probably send me to sleep. Sleep was how I dealt with long haul. Then my neighbour arrived. I had hoped that as this was a very late flight, to perhaps have an empty seat next to mine so I could raise the partition and spread out. No such luck. Never mind. That sort of luck was rare.

I did the plane etiquette thing and greeted my flight neighbour with a smile and a hello. He looked at me with a certain annoyance and immediately said – I don’t want to talk, I hate talking on planes. I thought some thoughts, but said nothing. Not talking was fine by me. I turned my attention to my book and ignored him. Silence ensued, with much fidgeting on his behalf. I figured he’d settle down at some point.

After the flight took off and drinks and such were served, my neighbour decided to start talking to me. And he kept talking for the entire flight. He told me all about himself. He was a Wall Street multimillionaire. He had retired early and was living the high life.

Which apparently did not include a private jet. What a shame.

He then told me all about his living arrangements. His many properties and how he had a man-servant to dress him and cater to his every need. I began to wonder if I was sleeping and dreaming about a character from P.G. Wodehouse.

Unfortunately it was not a dream. A nightmare perhaps.

He then listed all the status symbols he had acquired with his wealth. The wristwatch worth more than all the organs in his body had he tried to sell his body in bits on the organ donor black market. His cars, a Ferrari and a Lambo, or something of the I’m advertising my wealth in a flashy and obvious way.

Then he decided to tell me about his love life. Perhaps he was vetting me as possible trophy girlfriend material, not sure, but it did feel a bit like an interview at times. He was looking for a woman who would love him for who he was, not for what he had. As in I’m very rich, I’m going to tell you how very rich I am ad nauseum, list my assets, but then I’m going to ask you to see past that because that is what I have not who I am.

I was once on a flight which had several members of the Sultan of Brunei’s family on it. There was a child of about 8 years old who was wearing so much gold jewellery I don’t know how he managed to move. They were very discrete, except for the jewellery, and very polite. No idea why they were flying commercial, perhaps they were experiencing how the non-megarich live.

Life, people… so much strangeness… and that strangeness is condensed when you travel. Getting from A to B is sometimes more insightful into humans and being human, than being at A or at B.

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