Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Last And Final Call

I love flying. Admittedly for purely selfish reasons. I love being in my own coccoon of peace for two hours or ten, being able to watch movies back to back, being able to relish food that a hungry person would not touch normally, being able to read while the body moves at 800 kilometers per hour (amazing), for being completely cut off from the world with a very valid reason. But most importantly, I love the identity crisis that flying presents me with. Once I enter the airport, I am anonymous. Despite the fact that the ticket, the boarding pass, my passport, and all documents of any relevance have my name on it, when I fly I am anonymous. I am surrounded by 300 people who don't know me from Adam (er, Eve in this case). I can be whomever I want. I can be this gorgeous sophisticated girl who turns her nose up at everything (I carry this out to perfection despite my nose being a little too flat for it). Or I can be this giggly cute girl who smiles at everyone. Or I can be the pain in the ass who complains about everything. Oh, I relish the thought of re-defining myself if only for a few air borne hours.

Ofcourse then there are the flights that have forced me to be a certain persona despite my best intentions at being someone else. Like the British Airways flight that lost my luggage (again). Up until that time, I was Ms. Calm & Unruffled, my head did not turn even when the passenger in front of me threw up loudly. Yet the lost luggage miraculously transformed me into a screaming and shouting shrew, fighting for the 200 pounds compensation to buy new underwear and a few jackets - yes it was a matter of life and death, I yelled at them. Did they want the complication of death by hypothermia - cause of death: loss of baggage and warm clothes by careless airline? Or the Singapore Airlines flight where I was the ultra casual, torn jeans, thin t-shirt, well worn sneakers, no make up Ms. Grunge until I realised that I was seated next to the Fashion Editor for Elle. I did desperately attempt damage control by taking out the newest Estee Lauder mascara from my purse and waving it around like a wand hoping she'd notice that I was infact slightly fashion conscious - but she just looked at me though eyelashes that were like a forest and said - honey, I'm not sure if you know but that is expensive. I did deliberate laying out my Clinique and Mac make-up on my food tray, but for that I'd have to get into the aisle and then she'd see my ultra scruffed shoes. But my favourite was when I was Ms. Gothic - 1 inch thick black kajal on my upper and lower eyelids, funky hair, dark blue nail polish, nude lipstick, 10 black and silver bracelets, two silver crosses on my ears, a larger silver cross hanging from my neck and an all black ensemble where the t-shirt said BAD BOYS ROCK. The steward looked at me strangely as he seated me, I saw him glancing at my seat number, probably earmarking it as a source of future problems. About 10 minutes later someone sits next to me. I turn trilled at the prospect of scaring someone new when I see a very distinguished looking gentleman whom I recognise to be an extremely well known doctor. I spend the rest of my flight trying to convince him that I am a doctor too and that yes, I do have a great practice and no, I do not normally dress this way and no I am NOT a troubled teenager.

I recently flew to the U.S. on work. This time I was going to focus on the things that were important - the movies, the desserts, the sleep, catch up on my reading. I was looking forward to a quiet flight. I was going to be Ms. Not Interested In Talking and would have my iPod glued into my ears for good measure.

I sit back loving the seats, I go through the food menu, I scan the entertainment listings, boy was I in for the flight of my life. In hindsight, I cannot fathom how something that started so right, ended up so wrong.

It all starts when he sat next to me. He smiles, I smile. I look away, it is all part of the 'dont even think of starting a conversation' move. Twenty seconds later, he taps me on my shoulder. I look at him. His lips are moving. Does he not see the eyephone in my ears? I slowly take my iPod out.

Yes, I smile

Hi, he says, travelling to New York?

I stare at him in amazement. I am on a flight to New York and yet he asks me this?

Yes, I say for lack of a better answer.

I turn away. I turn the volume up on my music till I am sure he too can hear it. Twenty seconds later, he taps me again. I turn towards him incredulously. This time I can see his lips moving but I do not take my eyephones out. It is only when I see him gesticulating wildly that I realise perhaps he is trying to tell me something important. I take my iPod off and smile.

I hope you don't mind but I might snore when I sleep, he says sheepishly

No problem, that's what my head phones are for, I smile back

There is one more thing, he says, when they come around with the liqour can you please take two extra bottles of Black Label for me, if you don't mind?

I don't know what I am more aghast at - that fact that he feels comfortable enough to ask me this or the fact that he has mistaken me for his wife or sister or best friend.

I'm sorry I cannot do that, I say and firmly plug my earphone back in.

And the flight has not even taken off.

As the liqour cart is being wheeled around, he sneaks glances at me. I figure he is trying to muster up the courage to ask me again and so I pointedly stare into my book. I order some white wine for now and a Coke for later. He orders two bottles of Black Label. After forty minutes, he goes for a walk and comes back with one more bottle.

Good for him, he has figured this out all on his own, I think.

As I plug into the in-flight entertainment, he drifts off to sleep. A few minutes later, I cannot understand why the movie has a strange background sound. Something like a drum roll. I fiddle around with the settings but cannot seem to get rid of the sound. It is at this stage that I also begin to notice some other passengers looking my way.

As I take off the headphones, a very loud unnatural sound accousts me. A sound that overshadows the drone of the aircraft, that dulls the chatter of the other passengers, that even infiltrates through the inflight entertainment. It is the sound of a chugging locomotive going through a tunnel to a background orchestra of a hundred out of tune trumpets - by gosh it is his snore. No wonder he had felt the need to warn me about it. If only he had told me he makes a horrendous, painful, choking whining noise when he sleeps, but no, he chose to call it a snore which completely misled me into thinking it would be...well...a snore.

I have no option. I put the volume on loud and try and lose myself in George Clooney's eyes, a feat normally achieved without any effort on my part, but not today. I feel cheated. I briefly contemplate stuffing two pens up his nose or putting a wad of paper in his mouth but chicken out at the last moment. Just as I am staring at him in complete frustration, he opens his eyes, yawns loudly (I stop breathing for a minute lest there be any exchange of air), goes for a walk down the aisle and comes back with a Black Label bottle. I watch him surreptiously as I have yet to see him take a single sip of the stuff. He glances around furtively and then opens the lapel of his jacket and the bottle disappears inside. I stifle a grin, I can't wait for him to start loading up his jeans pockets with bottles.

In the meanwhile, I know my seat comes with a foot massage. Mine is wonderful and puts me to sleep almost immediately. A long, black, dreamless sleep, during which time, unknown to me, two more bottles have been delivered to the next seat. As I wake up and make my way to the washroom a little unsteadily, two air hostesses smile at me sympathetically. Another one comes to hold my hand and guide me into the washroom. I am perplexed.

As I exit, one of them asks me if I'm feeling well and says that a lot of liqour can sometimes cause dehydration when flying.

A lot of liqour??? Could they possibly be referring to my 30 ml of white zinfandel consumed 6 hours ago?

The airhostess continues unfazed. She has appearently seen many drunk passengers feigning sobriety.

Do you think a coffee would help? she asks me

Help what? I ask, really confused.

Help you feel better, she says

But I feel fine, just a little groggy, I insist.

She smiles knowingly. It's fine honey, she says. Most people are pretty groggy after a few Balck Labels.

I think the shock on my face finally registers.

But he kept telling us that his friend would like some more and we thought you were the friend, she says.

I march back to my seat distintively less groggy and significantly more angry. What audacity. How dare he. As I reached my seat, I note that he has his foot massage going on and is sitting with his eyes shut and listening to something on his headphone.

I try and control my temper as I do not want to create a scene in front of the crew. So I stick my headphones back into place and this time I try I really try to focus on the movie. After a while, from the corner of my eye, I can see that he is saying something to me. I look determindely at the screen, I ignore him, I refuse to look at him. I know that his voice is growing louder, but this is my space and I am not obliged to chare it with him. But then he starts gesticulating again, wild gestures which for some reason seem to be concentrated around the front of his pants. I finally look at him helplessly as I turn down the volume. I am just in time to catch him tell me, at the top of his voice - Your zip is undone.

All eyes turn towards me. I look down and he is right. Now I know and the entire plane knows that my zip is down and that worse still, I'll probably have to stand up to zip up.

It is the longest 10 hours of my life. I refuse to acknowledge him for the rest of the journey. He on the other hand now seems to think that we're best friends since we have crossed a personal line (my zip being down and all that). He talks a lot, I keep completely silent and shut my eyes.

Finally when we get off the flight, I am almost tempted to ask for a refund. He on the other hand has arrived in good spirits. As he is disembarking, he confides in me - My friend in New York loves Black Label and asked me to get him some from the aircraft. The crew were really nice about it, I just had to tell them that it was for my friend and they kept giving me more without asking any questions.

I know, I say wearily to his retreating back, as I finally pull my zip up.


Idling in Top Gear said...

LOL! I've had the good fortune of having uneventful flights my whole life - except for when American temporarily lost my baggage once- so no funny stories from me. The closest to anything remotely funny I've experienced in the air is sitting next to a dude reviewing a "confidential" presentation on a competitor's product, and their comparision of our product to theirs! I was laughing coz they overestimated our capabilities immensely!

Talking of in-flight personalities, whenever I fly coach, I'm always Mr."I can't believe I have to fly economy" guy! When I look around, I can usually recognize others in the same frame of mind by the scowl on their faces!

Anand said...

I must have missed you on your recent visit to the US. Feel free to say hello the next time...

Preeti Sharma said...

IITG - Hehe, I have seen and worn that face many times.

Anand - If I remember right, I did say hi on my most recent visit :-)
Didn't realise that you still read my blog - I must be getting famous!

IRIS said...

Hahaha! You are too good! I am glad I came here again:-)

Gauri said...

Hilarious Stuff !!

Arun Sundar said...

LOL!! And it is all the more funny to read inside a BA flight with a fat ass next to me!

Preeti Sharma said...

Iris - I am glad you came here too and I hope to see you around more often.

Gauri - It was a lot less funny when it was all happening:)

Arun - Hehe, perfect airline reading material huh.

vrinda said...

tee hee hee....awesome post!!
made me think of my very uneventful flights that i've had,if u rule out a baby puking right on to my favourite hand bag :D

nostalgic chica said...

Quite an experience - reading this post!
I'm taking an early morning flight tomorrow, and i'm suddenly nervous!!

Preeti Sharma said...

Vrinda - Oh no, that's horrible. Maybe next time you'll get lucky and get my guy sitting next to you!

Nostalgic Chica - Have a great flight.

Vyzz said...


Boy! U're hilarious!

and on one of the visits to a pub I figured, I love Black label!


Nice work girl!

Keep writing



Anil P said...

Aha, the joy of travelling :)

You've done justice with your writing.

N said...

Is this for real????
You really come across some weirdos - i would have grabbed those black labels and emptied them on this head - after all he had used your name to get them :P

Sajith said...

Lol! Amazing!
I accidentally stumbled upon your blog and Hehehe! You are too good! I am glad I came here :-)

Sajith said...

But I have never had such experiences! I wish I had! :P
What is life if we never have such experiences; Isn't it? :D