There must be a better way – The Pain of Flying

It’s 320pm – and I’ve just been trapped in a chair for over 2 hours. Trapped in one location with no chance of standing up, no chance of stretching, and no chance of working.

Clearly I am flying.
However, it isn’t meant to be like this. I’m sitting in business class, the plane isn’t delayed, nor circling before landing nor trapped on the tarmac.

No – it’s just after the time between boarding and the completion of the meal serving process, when the solid steel barrier between me and freedom was finally removed, and I am free to walk the cabin.

I cannot stand the waiting time associated with airline travel. So I try to game it.

I arrive at the airport at the very last minute that I can. An empty airport departure terminal frequently confronts me when I arrive – the rest of my flight already checked in. That’s when it helps to have airline status and to travel business class. I’m very often greeted by name at the check-in – the process of elimination in action.

Over the years my strategy of arriving at the last minute has sometimes backfired and I’ve missed quite a few flights. Only one or two of them mattered – I still recall the frosty look I received when I turned up half a day late to a team conference with a new boss early in my career, but consoling my then girlfriend when we missed a flight for a surprise holiday she had booked was much much worse.

Even with those two there is nothing that caused any real harm to my career, personal life or wallet. Meanwhile I’ve saved a huge amount of time that would have been otherwise waiting in queues in in airports, and have a few great stories to boot. For the record, the, err, record for me is 10 minutes and 20 seconds for a domestic flight (post 911) and about 20 minutes for an international flight. YMMV.
But there must be a better way.

Once checked in I’m often one of those final few names announced frantically on the intercom. I know that is poor social behaviour, but it seems I combine a deliberate plan to be in the last batch to board with a tendency to complete disorganization and unbelievably optimistic estimates of time it takes to get to gates. I mean – I do not try to be late – it just happens. Still – I’ve never failed to get on a plane once I’ve checked in, and I’ve reduced my time waiting in lines in front of departure gates to almost zero.

A pet peeve is that even if I am last to “depart”, and the departure gate folk disappear when I am through, I’m often left at the back of a disgustingly slow line in the departure tunnel. Not being a fan of queues (if that wasn’t abundantly clear) I usually stop at the back and wait a while – letting anyone who is even later than me pass on by.
There should be a better way.

Once on the plane there is the usual disorganization, which people trying to deposit bags in lockers, get to their seats, chat to friends and, mostly, wait for everyone else to do the same.
There must be a better way.

So finally I’ve stashed my bags, fiddled around to get my earplugs (which are staggeringly effective – airplanes are LOUD), my iPod, noise canceling headphones, book, magazine while turning off my phone, depositing it and any other clunky electronics in my bag, putting my laptop in the seat pocket and generally fussing around. No – this is not a smooth process, which is embarrassing for someone that flies as much as I do.
There should be a better way.

I’m then trapped. Last to board, last to stop fussing (I do hurry if the plane awaits) and last to get a drink (if at all) , the seatbelts must be on, the pane starts moving and I am now trapped.
Once airborne there is no escape. Servers rush up and down the aisles, often sporting metal carriages of colossal size and momentum. Drinks are proffered, and then dinner. Dinner requires a tray table, which acts as an excellent blocking mechanism to restrain you to the seat.
There should be a better way.

Now I can hear you saying – aren’t you traveling business class – in luxury? Sadly no. Well yes- I travel business class, but luxury this is not. The domestic business class in Australasia is akin to the US business classes. Shoddy. Confined. Painful. And not at all conducive to “business”. I’m writing this on my MacBook Air – a tiny computer, but the angles are just all wrong, my elbows are jammed between me and the chair or they are on the rock hard armrests, again at a painful angle. There is often no power supply or it doesn’t work, and there is almost certainly no internet connectivity.
There should be a better way.

But they do boast a more extensive food service than back in economy – so that’s a good thing right? Again – no. It’s that lengthy food service program that’s kept me trapped here from 1230 to 1540, and let’s face it – we don’t fly to eat well. Eating passes the time, keeps the passengers busy for a while and provides and interesting assortment of aromas for the passengers – before, during and after the meal. But not only are we trapped during the meal program, the tray is jammed full of the paraphernalia of dining, allowing no space for a magazine or book, let alone a computer.
There should be a better way.

That’s a lot of whinging and whining. Economy is worse of course, although they have a simpler meal program, the ratio of servers to passengers is much lower, so you are confronted with an empty plate for longer.

There must be a better way.
And there is. are.
So let’s talk about that in the next post – my next flight is boarding, and I need to go finish my drink, hit the head, shop for a magazine and time my arrival at the gate perfectly to last.

Published by Lance Wiggs


7 replies on “There must be a better way – The Pain of Flying”

  1. I do sympathise, but it could be worse. I’d happily trade my chronic fear of flying for some unnecessary seat confinement and elbow pain as I try to type on my shiny MacBook Air in Business Class. ;)


  2. You make everyone else wait for you on the plane just so you don’t have to wait as well? You’re kind of a dick.


  3. this post had me laughing with sadness & memory…

    i once commmuted AKL –> BNE return every week for 7 months, only a measly 3.5 hour flight each way, but enough to drive me mad… i too got utterly frustrated at the senseless discomfort of ‘business class’ – my aspirations of getting some decent work done were quickly dashed…

    i also very quickly sussed out the check-in as late as possible trick (lance – you should have kept that one a secret – it only works ‘cos everyone else doesn’t do it!!)

    & i learnt to utterly minimalise luggage – i once boarded an AKL bound flight with no check-in luggage and carrying just my wallet, mobile, passport, keys to car parked at AKL airport, and an A5 notebook + pen – nothing else. (tho, i did have the benefit of 2 houses, so didn’t need to carry clothes etc.)

    & i learnt the alternatives are as follows:
    1] don’t fly! (do the meetings online, or make them fly to you)
    2] take a boat instead (yeah right)
    3] get your own plane (sure….)
    awaiting enlightenment from your next post on a new alternative!


  4. If you have kids they will hate you for such behaviour and become paranoid about getting to flights, theatres, anything…not just on time but cripplingly way before time. Trust me on this.


  5. thanks for the comments everyone
    Amnon – that would suck – no deal from my side sorry.

    Bob – probably true, but I’ve very rarely actually made a plane wait – that queue in the tunnel solves for that. Even if so, the plane still arrives in time – schedules are met due to “speeding up in the air”, and space in the schedule for folk like me.

    Tom – the two house idea is great – my Father does that for Auckland and Wellington, keeping a tiny place in Auckland for less than the hotel cots. A boat to, say, the Caribbean, sounds a lot better..

    Don – yes families should have a better way as well, but not the same way as stressed and stressful business travellers… more to come.


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