(Please forgive my late post. I had planned to write and post last night when I got in, but instead I made the mistake of lying down, and was transformed into a log, complete with toadstools, for the rest of the night.)
Plane travel is a horrible thing. A couple of hours is not so bad. But any long haul flight, typically transatlantic or transpacific, is a form of voluntary prison. One may as well self-flagellate for eight hours – it would at least be more interesting, and you could at least have more space.
I can’t imagine how many panic attacks a flight attendant has to deal with, let alone how many go unnoticed. I was on the verge of one yesterday, flying to Canada from the UK.
In my experience, an eight hour flight means eight hours in the air. That does not include the inevitable hour on the tarmac, sometimes on both sides. No one, in a regular course of existence, willingly spends ten hours in a space half the size of a bathroom cubicle, immobile. We do it because it is currently the only way. Lots of websites explain charming ways of avoiding in-flight stress and tension – get up every hour and stretch, drink lots of water, get an aisle seat, upgrade to business class – fuck them all. I can’t afford an upgrade, more than 50% of the plane inevitably has to live with a non-aisle seat, and getting up is inevitably rude and difficult. Stretch you say? Where? You cannot stretch in the aisles. I can barely walk down the aisle to the toilet without hitting someone on the head. The space at the back is strictly for employees. No. These are not feasible suggestions.
We are bound in planes by strict codes of conduct, and strict physical limitations. There is no escape. You cannot move. Fidgeting is rude. Contacting the back of someone’s chair is rude. Getting up from a non-aisle seat frequently is rude. Touching other people is rude. By virtue of these other conditions, stretching, getting dropped items, exercising, expanding, relaxing, breathing, putting a sweater on, taking a sweater off, anything – it’s all like knocking on the jail bars of society with a metal cup. Brrrrrrrrrring. Everyone in the cabin has a migraine worth of taboos, exacerbated with each bang of the cup on your cell.
Anxiety is such a lovely addition to all the tension building up in your body. It’s a lactic acid byproduct of worry, withheld feelings, and bottled up desires. Boredom gives you a free reign to think about the anxiety, to dwell on it, to relish it.
I feel so frustrated writing this, reliving the experience. By the time the plane landed, we had spent one and a half hours on the tarmac (well, those of us in the back who had to get on first had) in the UK, seven and a half hours in the air, and then we had to wait. The plane was stopped. Everyone who could stand was standing. We were racehorses at the starting block. Except we had to be polite racehorses, neither neighing, trembling, stretching, moving, or screaming. Half an hour later, when the gates opened, literally, we could finally give it a jumping start. Ha. Wrong. We could then slowly file out of the maze of chairs, stiff and achy, eyes bulging with politeness. I had been biting my sweater for the last fifteen minutes, in the hopes that my tight jaw could inflict the pain on my sweater that I wanted to reap on the crowd. I wanted to put my shoulder to their backs and charge, bulldozing the stupid sheep until I could wail on the exit door with my fists.
If I suffer another “Oh you go first” by the person in front of me in the next few days, I will probably rip out my hair.