Travelling by plane, that magical experience of looking down through the clouds and feeling free as a bird, has had its wings clipped somewhat by modern reality.
These days, flights of fantasy are squeezed between the harsh realities of our times. There are queues for baggage drops, long lines at security checks, treks to distant gates through airport corridors and more security checks.
All that of course is reserved for those who can fly and haven’t seen their airline cease trading thanks to the price of oil, exchange rates and other vagaries of commerce.
But, do you know what, despite the unpredictable wait times – and nagging guilt at the environmental impact my journey to the USA is having on planet earth – there is certainly still pleasure to be found in air travel.
Smiles at altitude
It’s the same pleasure to be found when your feet are firmly planted on the ground – the pleasure of a smile, a new connection. It’s the kindness and humanity to be found in amongst all the bureaucracy and regulation.
This simple reality struck me on my recent flight from London Heathrow to JFK. It was busy, but blessed with a cabin crew that didn’t stop smiling.
There was the added bonus that those strapped in around me on BA flight 0137 seemed to recognise the privilege of their position and were keen to smile rather than scowl at their fellow voyagers.
I actually felt I was in some parallel universe of peace and friendship. It was a nice place, even before the gin tonic arrived.
Something to drink, madam?
The cabin crew joked with passengers and went beyond the call of duty. For my part this meant a supply of wine, coffee and chocolate during the flight.
I had a chat with the crew during one of my wanders around the cabin to stretch my back and shared a Virgin Atlantic flight story with them.
It’s a tale from the days of planes having smoking seats at the rear of a plane. I could never understand this. The smell of fags basically permeated amongst all passengers within ten rows, but hey, those were the days.
I’m not a smoker, but I often elected to sit in the smoking section of planes as I found I met more interesting people and frankly the plane stank of smoke anyway.
I was working for a radio station at the time. On this flight, I found myself sitting next to a fellow journalist. It was well before the days of continual seat back screen personalised entertainment. This was the historical period of reading a book and talking to your neighbour.
Hence we’d struck up a conversation and it was some time before we noticed a bearded man making his way along the cabin from the front of the plane. He was accompanied by a film crew.
It was Richard Branson, recording for a tv report given his new celebrity status in the USA. As he passed down the plane he stopped at each row to chat with his customers.
Smoking is anti social
My neighbour was a smoker. We quickly decided that neither of us wanted to be part of Virgin’s PR machine that day & plotted a plan to ensure we were not the most photogenic passengers.
I’m not a smoker, but I’m also not keen on being part of PR filming unless I’ve had time to ponder my view on the topic/commerce. It was for this reason that as Branson approached our row and began chatting to the folk in front of us, we both light up a cigarette.
We ensured we were puffing out smoke as the Virgin man looked up ready to move on to our aisle.
He looked through the smoke and us. It was as if our seats were empty. Branson and camera crew walked past without pausing. Smoking smokers were not an airline PR opportunity even in the late 80’s.
I believe Virgin banned smoking on flights in 1990. I like to think my action helped push that forward.
up up and away
All that to illustrate you never know what awaits you when you get on a plane. Who will sit beside you, whether the crew will be smiley or grumpy, the flight on schedule or delayed by fog, all this is out of your control.
What I will always know is that smoking areas on planes did indeed host fun company, but really smelt bad.
My 2017 BA stewards seemed to enjoy this piece of aviation history. A coffee was brought to my seat and I got extra chocolate.