On a long-haul flight to Chicago recently, I realised something: Flying brings out the extremes in my already tedious personality. I don’t know exactly what it is about being cooped up with 200 strangers in a tin tube, but facets of my personality normally kept under control, safely within a locked room somewhere in my frontal lobes with a big, burly man on the door to make sure no insanity escapes, seem to find a way out over the course of nine hours in that stale-aired cocoon.
I fly with every intention of making the best use of the time. “I can get some serious work done,” I convince myself. “Get some reading done,” I tell myself. By the time I disembark from this flight, I’ll have moved forward at least one space in the Game of Life.
And then it starts. It’s small things at first. I was raised to be polite: Please, thank you, yes sir, you’re welcome; holding doors open and apologising when I haven’t actually done anything wrong all form a part of my day-to-day life. But for some reason, like a really polite version of Dr. Bruce Banner getting angry, my politeness goes to extremes in this confined space. When the in-flight meal is served, with no conscious thought, I find myself waiting until everyone on the plane has been served their meal before I start eating. This is a well-mannered thing to do when you’re out for a meal with family, but on an aircraft of 200 strangers, it’s just mental.
Next, the woman sitting in the seat next to mine opens her book and I see that, as a bookmark, she is using a portrait photograph of the late Princess Diana. For some reason, this really annoys me. Why does she have that? Is she insane? I begin fantasising that I will open my reading material and out falls a photograph of The Queen, standing on an aircraft carrier, George Bush style, with a “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging behind her in defiance. But, alas, I was reading from my Kindle Fire and had no such opportunity.
There is no reason for this thought. There is no legitimacy as to why I would want to make such a joke at this point. But I love, love, awkward situations and jokes that are in, shall we say, questionable taste. And this situation seems to exacerbate my desire to show EVERYONE just how much I love it.
When you’re aboard a plane, nothing you experience is quite the full version of what it should be. Food, drinks, sleep, work, conversation; everything is a travel version of what you expect. It’s like buying travel scrabble. Yes, technically it’s the same as the full-size version, but it’s unsatisfactory and frustrating and, as you descend into madness, you just end up playing “Bollocks” even though it’s not an officially sanctioned word.
Around four hours into the flight, I begin to have thoughts. Conspiracy theories, you might call them. For example, I once became convinced that Wi-Fi is actually a naturally occurring phenomenon. It has been discovered, harnessed and turned into a commodity by corporate lackeys who are only in it for money, like crude oil. But up in the sky, it is in abundance and it is free. That is why it is called ‘Cloud Computing,’ because it’s only controlled and charged for up to the height of the clouds. That’s why they won’t let you switch on your WiFi devices while you’re flying. They don’t want to get caught out.
And that brings me to another thing. Nine hours without the Internet makes me realise how little I actually know. I walk the earth believing myself to be a fountain of knowledge. I pride myself on knowing something about everything, or at least being able to change conversations onto a subject on which I have knowledge. But it dawns on me that I Google everything. I Google facts, statistics, histories and urban legends to the tune of what feels like 400 times each day. So when I overhear conversations on the flight, or a random thought pops into my ignorant mind, I go into a daze, mentally wandering around the sparse moors of my own idiocy, looking for anything that looks familiar than I can cling to. I hear a couple in the seats behind me having a discussion on the history of the Church of England, and they are getting it all wrong. They don’t have a clue what they are talking about. But then I discover, neither do I. My inquisitive mind has been programmed to seek out answers, but not to retain anything. I’m a first-class moron in economy class seating.
And so flight AA55 hits the runway. I walk down the gangway and, after paying an exorbitant amount in roaming data costs to Google everything I’ve overheard on the flight, I get back to my usual, only slightly annoying and abnormal personality with which I make my way in the world. And I know full well that I’ll do it all over again in two weeks’ time.
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