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The cheapest thing in the world: What’s not to like about flying economy?

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Filthy food, slavish service and the opportunity to be abominably rude. What’s not to like about flying economy, asks Peter Sherwood.

Billions of us have taken to the skies for one reason and for one reason only – we’ve come across a return ticket (to somewhere we have no burning desire to visit) that costs peanuts. Once airborne, we know that cabin crew will pander to our every trivial need – ridiculously inexpensive pampering – with meals, snacks and buckets of free booze provided. Were the ticket price to double, we would quickly rediscover the joys of a Star Ferry ride and the Big Buddha.

Something else you get for your pittance fare – the right to complain. There will never be a better time to whine without consequence. Flight attendants smile disingenuously even if you smack them over the scone with a tray of fish curry. This is the best chance ever to show your ugly side without repercussions – unless you attack the pilot with an ice pick, you’re guaranteed polite acquiescence.

And so it is that the number of us travelling by plane has doubled worldwide since the mid-1980s. Even ‘destination weddings’ are the rage, preferably continents away and at a location that was exotic until half a million blokes in rented morning coats and ladies in seriously silly hats showed up on their air miles. For an Asia-based bride and groom, the obvious place to tie the knot is the annual Oruro Carnival in Bolivia.

Getting your money’s worth

Economy class is being wedged unscientifically into a Spanish inquisitional device, millimeters from some stranger in equal misery, who slavishly rejects eye contact in case you might venture a friendly ‘hello.’ It’s impossible to imagine being locked like conjoined twins  in an open field somewhere and intentionally ignoring each other for 12 hours. On a plane it’s easy.

I always get saddled with a budding sociopath staring at explosions on his miniature screen, stopping only to gingerly poke the plastic covers off some generic dish, like it’s laced with salmonella. Closer inspection of this yellowish mush, in daylight, would confirm it has probably seen a plague or two.

Ersatz food is served to break the tedium, and so I won’t go nuts and tear the ears off the misanthrope in the adjoining seat before leaping up, ripping open the door and plummeting gratefully to my doom clutching the chief purser.

Picture a recent flight to Manchester. There I was, close to comatose at an unknown hour, and with my right leg in the latter stages of paralysis due to a breakdown in circulation. My neck felt like the bloke in the seat behind had been twisting my head violently at 180°. Slowly, soft cabin lights came on. Bundled and blanketed bodies in impossibly twisted forms arose creepily from drugged sleep, like the creature from the black lagoon, as a tray of gunge, labeled ‘breakfast,’ was served.

Would I like tea or coffee, or perhaps a large hypodermic full of morphine? I passed on this exciting epicurean opportunity but watched as the entire befuddled population of economy class shovelled down glutinous goo. This is commonly known as ‘getting your money’s worth’ – regardless of it being a hazard to health and dignity.

If I were in charge it would be, “What would you like with your Arrow Poison Frog, sir? Today we have a choice of cyanide or strychnine, and for desert a fresh polonium platter.”


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 19 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.


Image: pixabay.com

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