Smile and Deep Breaths-How I survived the long haul flight

It was a pleasure flying with you…sort of…not really. (wikipedia)

I hate flying, but I must endure it. I think I would much rather take a 12 hour train ride than a 12 hour flight.  That is not always possible though, the Atlantic kind of gets in the way. Yet these years of flying have taught me something. If you smile, take deep breaths, things will probably go ok.

The Departure

I was delighted to run into my friends Jen and Alina at the airport. We have this way of always finding each other when we fly. We are never on same plane, just traveling at the same time in the same direction. So that made me smile.

After the long line at security, I had worked up an appetite. I got my cappuccino and butter bretzel and sat down to watch the crowds go by. The airport seemed to be full of groups of men traveling with their buddies one last time as a single men. In Germany this means men get some ridiculous T-shirts made and they drink beer and accost women before the impending wedding day. For example, we were waiting in line at security and one of the drunk guys with the matching sperm bank T-shirt asked us if we spoke any German. “Ein bischen.” I replied. He then said “it doesn’t matter I can understand you in English.” He bent over laughing, slapped his knee and took another sip from his beer. Ashloch! I thought of his future wife and just smiled.

The Layover

After a short flight, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport. I find this place to be one of the most confusing airports in the world. Arrows pointing down mean go forward. But to me an arrow pointing down means “Go to Hell.” There is this annoying little chime every time they are about to make an announcement. And for some reason this African grandma has chosen to sit near me while she tries to contain her 3-year-old grandson. I cleared my throat. He cleared his, or made some noise like it. He arched his back and kicked grandma every time she tried to make him sit.   He ran from her. There was hardly anyone in the terminal and I’m sure her flight to Kinshasa was going to be a long one. So why not run that boy’s ass up and down the corridor for an hour. I’ll watch your bag. I just couldn’t bear to listen to him scream. I couldn’t bear to watch him struggle. So I  got up and took a walk, took a deep breath,  and put a smile on my face. As I strolled the long corridor I said a short blessing for the man or woman who ends up enduring a flight next to that. I should have packed my running kit in my tote bag. I could do some serious KM’s in here.

The Boarding Process

Oh goody it’s time to board! Lets all hurry and get in line so we can wait on the plane for an hour until our plane takes off. At some point, you must get in line, so I did.  Then I kept leaving the line to go to the back. I tried to stay on my feet as long as I could but eventually one must succumb to the beckoning line. The first person took my boarding pass and ticket. He began his line of questioning. He is did not look at me. Look at me damn it! You are supposed to be watching my body language. You are trying to get me to slip up. I kept smiling and tried to make eye contact. He eventually looked up from my passport and smiled. “Every thing is ok ma’am, have a nice flight.”

Onto the next line of people processing. As I made the turn I noticed they had pulled a mom away from her family. They were searching her bag and doing a little light frisking. The older American woman in front of me is pissed. “Sid! Look at that. Look at how they are treating her. Do you think they are gonna frisk me too?”  Hell yes!  Frisking for everyone!  What is so wrong with people questioning and frisking you?  I think all passengers need to submit  to a line of questioning so scary, that you crumble into a pile of tears, and your husband has to carry you onto the plane. I’m smiling as I think this. Jesus! We don’t want to die here. I want security to freak people out. I want it hard for a terrorist to get on a plane. Ask me questions and touch me there, well…not there, well maybe. Hehehe. Smiling.

Once on board, the kind and soothing voice of the captain explained the further delay.  “Hi folks, this is your captain speaking. I’m afraid there is going to be a little delay as we iron out a few technical problems. We hope not to wait more than a half an hour.”  An audible groan came from man behind me. Really?! What would you rather have sir? Explosive death scene somewhere off the coast of Greenland or wait a few more minutes. I smiled and breathed deeply. What can you do in this situation? I guess I’ll just read a magazine and sit here in the dead center of the plane and enjoy my quiet solitude with 200 other people.

The Entertainment

Cropped screenshot of Frank Sinatra, Jules Mun...

Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, and Gene Kelly in On The Town. (wikipedia)

In-flight entertainment sure has changed. Remember when you could only watch one film on a tiny little tv screen. I was usually sitting 20 rows back from the screen but I could easily hear the artful dialogue of “Lambada.” Now, you have your choice of hundreds of movies and television shows. It’s a bit like cable tv, billions of channels and nothin’ on. I made an effort to watch “Argo”. I’m not sure if it was the heavy turbulence or the feeling like I was reliving a trauma from childhood, but I had to shut if off when the crowd flooded inside the embassy. I was  already stressed enough, and now I was torturing myself trying to watch this. So instead I watched “On The Town.” Smiled Big! Gene Kelly and some of the best dance numbers ever!

The Bathroom

When you have the middle seat you must try to be as polite as you can to the aisle people. I feel like I can only ask for them to get up maybe every two hours. If one of them leaves their seat I go to the potty no matter what. Who knows when I might get this guilt free chance to escape again.  And if they both fall asleep I could be trapped for hours.

A trip to the bathroom is always a delight on a long haul flight.  Who knows what kind of surprises await you there. The bathroom looks like a storm hit it. The sink is messy: water, soap goo, and wet paper towels. I guess the previous person was so dirty they had to shower in the sink, spray the toilet seat and then leave a soggy paper pile for me to clean up.  I don’t know why people are so afraid to touch their asses to the toilet.  For 12 hours they breathe the breath of hundreds of bacteria covered people.  A little pee is not going to kill you!  (No deep breathing or smiling here for the obvious reasons.)

The Cuisine

The food wasn’t so good this flight. Well maybe it was ok, it was just difficult to for me to eat. Every time the food or drink cart came down the aisle the fasten your seat belts announcement came on. Heavy turbulence and eating don’t really mix. You raise the food to your mouth and then miss your face. You hold the drink in front of you, coaxing it to your mouth, and hope it doesn’t spill in your lap. They really should pass out rain ponchos instead of blankets on these flights, the poncho keeps you insulated and protects from those pesky stains.  I looked at those around me trying to eat and smiled as they moved their arms in unison to the bounce of the plane on the clouds.

The Last Few Hours

Once I reached the “three hours to go” mark, I relaxed a little. Maybe I WILL make it off this thing alive. At two hours to go, I tried to watch a movie again. Hour to go, another meal and another bout of turbulence. I smiled at Delta’s version of the classy hot pocket. Its center was not quite molten enough to be a real hot pocket, though.  Then the descent and one of the hardest landings ever. We  waited about ten more minutes on the Tarmac for a parking place. Sea-Tac sure is a busy place on a Sunday. Seeing Mt. Rainer and the Olympics was a comfort. I was breathing the air of home and smiling.

The Arrival

View of Mt. Rainer from Sea-Tac Airport. (Port of Seattle)

View of Mt. Rainer from Sea-Tac Airport. (Port of Seattle)

Customs went by quickly and then came the eternal wait for the baggage. It made me smile to watch these people look for their luggage. Why is that most people fly with the same black suitcase?  Note to self:  Buy neon green suitcase.  Mommies screaming at children to help while dads busy themselves with checking emails on cell phones they are not supposed to have out in customs.

Then the classic moment happened. Little old lady in wheelchair begins to instruct her airport assistant with “My bag looks like that one but that is not my bag.” She said this with every passing black suitcase. “Yes, ma’am. Just let me know when you see yours.” She continued to tell him which bags weren’t hers until she realized that the luggage was coming from the other side of the carousel. She wanted to be close to the source ” it will be quicker and easier” she insisted. The man patiently explained the concept of the carousel. The luggage will get here. She would have none of that. He looked at me with that look. You know the “if I wasn’t surrounded by witnesses I’d off the bitch right here and now” look? I smiled, then giggled. This guy better get a big tip.

My luggage finally came and  I zipped through the next line of questioning. “No I am not carrying any commercial products to sell. No, I don’t have cow poo on my shoes. All I brought with me was German Mustard and Hanuta bars, want some?” A short tram ride to baggage claim and then into the arms of my awaiting husband.

The Reward

Mexican Restaurant!   Chips and salsa  and Carnitas are an excellent reward after enduring the long haul.  Trying not to think about the flight back in 19 days.

How do you endure the long haul flight?  Got any horror stories of your own?

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12 replies

  1. We once flew back to Okinawa from LA and had booked it on United. Well, they code shared us onto an ANA (Japanese airline) plane and the seats were approximately 200 inches closer together than on a US carrier. We also had the window and middle seat and the man in the aisle slept the entire 10 hours save for one trip to the rest room.

    Best of all; I had just gotten off a plane from Ireland before start this lovely journey.

    Good times.

  2. Oh, I was laughing so hard the entire time I was reading this! So funny! So true!

    Let’s see, worst air travel experiences…

    Well, there was this time when I was small – I think I was about seven or eight – when I boarded the aeroplane to find a puke bag, complete with vomit inside it, in the pocket in front of my seat.

    Just a few months ago, my sister’s kneecap was fractured when the man in front of her reclined his seat suddenly AFTER everyone had been told to put their seats in the upright position for landing.

    Once, about ten years ago Singapore Airport I think, my sister, then aged five, was pulled aside and frisked by security (half a dozen big, beefy Singaporean men) because the buckles on her school shoes had set off the alarm. My father and myself (then aged 8), were already through, and my mother was about five people back in the queue… They wouldn’t let any of us through to help her. Is it any surprise she now has a panic attack every time we fly?

    The worst delay we ever had was in Philadelphia Airport, maybe three months ago. We’d gotten lost in Philadelphia, arrived fifteen minutes too late to check in, were swapped to the flight that left three hours later, which was then delayed for six and a half hours. I think 10 and a half hours is the longest I’ve ever waited in a single airport.

    One of the worst stopovers I ever had was in Copenhagen. Our flight from Singapore had been delayed because it had to fly AROUND the Middle East, resulting in us having about five minutes between the ‘plane landing and the connecting flight to Heathrow taking off. I was five and my sister was three. Ever tried to collect baggage run between terminals with said baggage and a five-year-old and a three-year-old and a woman with MS in a wheelchair in five minutes? The airline was surprisingly good about it, though.

    One of the worst things that can happen at the end of a long-haul flight is being told that due to weather conditions, you’ve got to circle above the destination city for half an hour or more.

    That said, flying isn’t usually THAT bad, and with 80+ flights in just over 17 years of life, most of them long-haul flights, I feel I speak with some authority on the matter. And, crazily enough, I actually like flying (most of the time).

    I usually survive long-haul flights by trying to sleep. That isn’t too hard, considering everyone else tends to have the same idea. Sometimes sleeping is easier than other times. I can’t sleep if I don’t have a wall.

    Apart from that, I usually watch a lot of movies, get out my computer for a bit, and look out the window (only when we’re over land). I think a bottle of water and some lip-balm is essential for a long-haul flight. My sister survives them by asking for cups of ice every half and hour or so.

    Actually, last time we flew, we had the same air hostess twice, once from Auckland to LA and once from Vancouver to Auckland. Which was very surprising. But she remembered my sister and brought her cups of ice without her needing to ask! Nice cabin crew makes long-haul flights SO much better.

    Sorry for the tremendously long comment. Just put it down to my flying far too much.

    • We fly the Amsterdam-Seattle route a lot. Seems to always have the same crew. Thank God! That crew kicks ass! One guy does a great duck voice, he keeps the children entertained. All of the staff on that flight are amazing, calm, patient, kind, stern when needed.

      I think flying through the thunderstorm last year and landing far from where we were intended to land was the worst. London to Stuttgart flight (1 1/2hrs) ended up being close to a 4 hour flight. But again…I’m not complaining. I’m alive…no fiery crash scenes.

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