Flying long distance on the cheap

Economy, long-haul, pleasant, quiet; All adjectives that are expected in a sentence riddled with sarcasm when describing any long distance flight trapped in inexpensive class.

My experience with Japan Airlines was as expected, complete with crying babies, weak bladdered individuals and my curse of being unable to sleep on public transport. Fortunately, the duration of the flight had enough entertainment to keep me occupied.

Flying economy alone is like a lottery but as I stepped onto the plane I felt my numbers were about to come in. As I narrowed in on my allotted space for the next ten hours, there sat two wide eyed smiling faces pinned on me, I mirrored their gesture and beamed back at them. Stowing my bag in the overhead, a confused, lost elderly man became caught in my peripheral. He had just been informed that his seat was on the other side of the plane and was now attempting to make his way round. The pensioner was not alone and was leaving behind his wife, who was seated directly in front of me. Thinking back on it now, the separation may well have been planned, but after glancing at his ticket, then to his designated seat and finally casting my eye along my row I tapped him on the shoulder.

‘Excuse me, would you like to swap seats to be closer to your wife?’ I said loudly and within earshot of his partner, how could he refuse? Graciously the man accepted and we then spent the next few moments awkwardly manoeuvring around the cramped cabin to get to where each of us were going. Walking away from the interaction I felt a deep satisfaction and that I was about to be rewarded. My prize was a seat in the centre of a kindergarten, all members seemingly pumped full of sugar as they bounced from wall to wall. The Japanese man now sitting next to me was a ‘Cola’ addict who refused to acknowledge my existence and took it upon himself to pompously wave his empty glass around as a signal for a refill. Camel he was not and constant toilet breaks were his speciality. I hit the whiskey.

Meanwhile nearly a day in front of me, Alicia had just completed her own hellish journey across the Pacific Ocean. Flying with China Southern, her trip had a long wait in Guangzhou, China. Looking for a ‘pick me up’ it led her into the solitary airport cafe. There she ordered a standard coffee only to be told it would cost $17! Thinking that there must be a mistake in the currency conversion or the server must have misread a decimal place, a recheck was requested. Coming back with the same figure, the employee attempted to justify their company’s pricing by stating the coffee was “special” as it was only produced in China. The punch line was delivered with such dead pan sincerity that all Alicia could do was laugh and walk away.

Coffee-less and lacking in sleep she made her way to the plane in the hope of some ailment. Sadly all her cabin experience involved was a whining Korean man seated directly behind who persisted in making my girlfriend’s entire twelve hour journey as uncomfortable as possible. Being unable to handle a chair at anything more than a 90 degree angle, he kicked, shook and moaned despairingly to display his distaste. Attempting an intervention a Chinese flight attendant tried to calm the situation and requested Alicia put her seat to it’s upright position. Caffeine and sleep deprived, she indicated vigorously to the slumbering cabin that no one else had a problem and this was her paid seat. The attendant left satisfied she had done all she could and so the barrage of thumps, shakes and whines continued.

© John Brownlie 2012

Do you have any interesting economy travel stories?

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