There's something about air travel that brings out the best in some of us, and the worst in many. I've come to the conclusion that the longer the flight, the greater the likelihood of being seated near a cranky howling infant or an obnoxious, selfish adult, either of which amounts to about the same thing - no rest for everybody else on board. The only thing that keeps me sane in that situation is the satisfaction of knowing I'll eventually get off that plane and be rid of the irritation, whereas the poor parent or spouse travelling with them is doomed to several more years of hell.
I'm a nervous flier, white-knuckled at take-offs and landings, so the fewer flights it takes to get to our destination, the better. I'm also the kind of person who needs to be laying down to sleep, which generally rules out the probability of getting any sort of rest on an airplane, where, if you're lucky, the seats recline to a maximum of 30 degrees. Fortunately for me, drinking wine goes a long way in alleviating both these conditions, and the fact that alcoholic beverages are complimentary on international flights strongly suggests that I'm probably not the only one who suffers from these maladies.
For this trip, we were very fortunate to find a flight to Bangkok with only one stop in Frankfurt. In past it's always been two stops, so I was looking forward to the pleasure of experiencing two less white-knuckle events this time out. Bonus! At Toronto airport, the Air Canada agent informed us the plane was only lightly booked, and managed to change our seats to the forward cabin, with an empty seat between us, which gave us extra wiggle room. Double bonus! We were definitely on a roll! Once in the air, I could faintly hear a baby crying in the cabin behind us...the cabin we were originally supposed to be seated in. Triple bonus! Could we truly be so lucky?
Between dinner service, snack service, duty free service, breakfast service, and (of course) several wine refills, there really wasn't much opportunity to get some sleep during the seven hour flight to Frankfurt. I wasn't worried. The next leg to Bangkok would be almost twice as long. Plenty of time to catch a few zzzzz's then.
After a very long trek through the Frankfurt terminal, we arrived at our waiting area, which appeared to be very sparsely populated. Could we be so lucky to have a nearly empty plane two flights in a row? Things were looking really good. wo sweet little girls, ages about 15 months and 5 years old, played quietly alongside their young and beautiful, perfectly made-up, Thai mother. They didn't appear the least bit threatening. Besides, in a huge double-decker plane equipped with a special 'baby area', what could the odds be that they'd even be seated in our cabin? Slim to none! I wasn't worried one bit.
As we boarded our plane, counting the rows to locate our seat, I spotted the darling little family - one row back and off to our left. No problem, they had little toys to keep them busy. Everything would be fine. They'd probably play for a while, eat their dinner, then fall into dreamy sleep lulled by the white noise of the jet engines.
Our plane readied for take off. A few white knuckle moments, and the worst would be over. I was looking forward to relaxing (within aforementioned limits) and basking in the luxurious interior and superior service of Thai Air for the next eleven hours.
That's when Lady Luck turned the tables. A howl erupted from the toddler, and reached ear-piercing decibels before leveling off into a siren-like wail. Her sister, who apparently had never quite grasped the meaning of the phrase 'indoor voice', chattered incessantly and raced up and down the aisles. It was beginning to look like this could be a very long flight.
Dinner arrived. The child howled. Drinks arrived. More howling, more babble. How was it possible for neither of these children to stop for a breath? More drinks. A snack. The cacophony continued. Incessantly. We resorted to our trusty noise cancellation earphones, and turned the volume up to high. Better, but not quite sound proof.
I spotted three empty seats across the aisle one row ahead of us. By this time, the cabin lights had been dimmed. Maybe if I laid down, closed my eyes and meditated on pleasant thoughts, I could at least try to relax...even if the ceaseless noise kept me awake. I flipped up the middle two armrests, positioned my little pillow, curled up my knees and laid down on one side, pulling the soft purple fleece blanket over me. Ahh!! Comfort at last!
Wrong-O!!!!! Remember I mentioned Thai Air's luxurious interior? They've gone the extra mile to design specially molded bucket seats. Laying across three of them can only be likened to stretching out across a gargantuan washboard. I tried positioning myself so one of the humps rose at my waistline. That didn't work. My head and neck were contorted at a very unnatural angle, and I envisioned myself being paralyzed from the neck down if the plane lurched suddenly. I tried moving downward, turning on my back and bending my knees to give my head room to maneuver. The solid humps rose into my ribs and hips. It was useless. I sat up, tilted the seat backs, and angled myself out. Okay, but definitely not a comfortable sleeping position. Total exhaustion swept me into the occasional fitful period of groggy half-wakefulness.
The hours crept past. A little more wine, more squealing, more headphones, a little more wine. And then, miraculously, about an hour before landing, the cabin went quiet. Two little girls, exhausted from all their activity, had finally fallen into a deep sleep. Their frazzled mother looked like she'd been through a hurricane, make-up smudged, hair askew. One of her false eyelashes had come partly unglued, looking rather like a huge millipede trying to free itself from the corner of her right eye. As we got off the plane, I didn't envy her one bit. Heaven knows what further trials lay ahead for her. Our flight hadn't been the greatest experience, but we, on the other hand, could bask in the knowledge that we were heading to a quiet hotel with a big luxurious soft bed.
I've come to accept that there are two distinct classes of air travelers - those who can afford to pay high prices for their privacy and comfort.... and the rest of us. The only time I ever come close to being in the former category is when the path to my seat traverses the first class cabin. Just once, I'd like to experience that level of luxury. For now anyway, I've resigned myself to the reality of being hurtled through space in a shiny silver tube with my fellow economy-class sardines. Whether or not it will be a relaxing flight is a crap shoot at best.