A flight from hell

Way back, many lifetimes ago, when I was young and inconsiderate, I took a flight from Scottsdale to LA or was it from Las Vegas to Seattle? I can’t quite remember. I know I was stateside and going home to wherever it was I called home at the time. It was back in the days when you could still smoke on a plane. And yes, I’m ageing myself there. I’d been separated from my mate as we hadn’t booked together and found myself in the back row of the plane sitting beside an Irish priest. We had a whale of a time. We talked, we laughed, we drank, we smoked. We sorted out the world and then some. No one would have thought it was 3 pm or whatever it was over whichever state we were flying. But for others it was a flight from hell.

Back then, I was living with a TV so I spoke more loudly than I do now. I have a theory. Those who live with TV speak louder than those who don’t. They have to, to be heard above the background noise. So ours wasn’t just a conversation à deux; all of the adjacent rows got to hear it, too. When the plane landed, a woman sitting a couple of rows ahead of me turned back to me and said:

Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.

I hadn’t a clue what she was on about. Then. But the bones of 25 years later, she’s come back to haunt me.

Travelling from Dublin to Budapest last week, I was on the flight from hell. I had the misfortune to be on a less-than-full flight. You know the ones that offer plenty of scope for musical chairs? I sat in front of an Irish lad and a Hungarian girl. She had the window. He had the aisle. He had two mates. She was on her own. His mates soon moved to the adjacent aisle seat and the middle seat between the two. And for nearly three hours the four of them kept up a non-stop flow of conversation. And they were all TV people.

We had the usual what do you do, where do you work, how long have you been living in Dublin (from them). And what do you do, where do you work, and is this your first time in Budapest (from her). It wasn’t long before she discovered that her mate Rosie used to work with one of them in London. It’s a small field, apparently. I can’t tell you how amazingly, mind-blowingly, gobsmackingly awesome this was. Only about a 100 in London all told and they all know each other. Some sort of monopolies economists. As the cans of beer popped open, more than froth came to the fore. Old stories of Mr in the Middle (a film director) stealing knickers for his girlfriend from a shopping centre, stories he hotly denied. My boy on the aisle had been unemployed for ages (ex-Microsoft) but had finally gotten a job last May and was off probation. The economist on the adjacent aisle told us four times why the marketing book he was reading was such a good read. In between times, herself filled them in on all what was to be seen in Budapest. She works for Air BnB in Dublin. Been there years. Great English.  I had my doubts though when she was telling them that palinka is a type of vodka and I had to hold myself back when she started recommending places to go – all obvious tourist traps. Szimpla Kert and Szechenyi baths – really?

On a flight that lasted just shy of three hours, we had seven minutes of blissful silence. Seven minutes. Then they regrouped, rehashed, and repeated all that had gone before.

I couldn’t hear myself think. I tried proofreading some text and had to resort to reading aloud in an effort to keep focused on what I was doing. The Serbian chap beside me must have thought he’d died and gone to English-language hell. How much worse could it get. I tried reading but kept losing my place. I tried sleeping but that wasn’t happening. I watched the chap in front of me turn around numerous times and glare disapprovingly but to no avail. They were oblivious to everything and everyone.

I was them once. On a flight to LA or Seattle. With a priest. I was inconsiderate, loud, and full of self-interest. I didn’t care who I was disturbing because I simply didn’t realise I was disturbing anyone. My world was all about me. When the chap next to Mr Adjacent Aisle got up and moved, they engaged in an all-too-brief moment of self-reflection, wondering if it was something they’d said? Hello! I wanted to scream Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was everything you said so loudly. But I didn’t.

I was tempted to turn to them when we landed and pass on yer woman’s words:

Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.

No. Better to cut that karmic thread off at the seam. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And while I finally see the value in headphones, I’m a little disturbed by my unwillingness to engage.


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