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Cattle Class: Peter Sherwood on 21st century flying

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I’ve promised myself to fly only if I’m led out of town in handcuffs. There is nothing charitable to be said about flying. I’ll qualify this obvious truth: The only thing worse is the budget version, and the only experience to surpass that is to be stuffed into a suitcase and spend the day on a baggage carousel at Rome’s terminally broken terminal.

Flying is the cheapest thing we can do outside of leaping off a cliff into oblivion, a process potentially more rewarding.

In Europe, Ryanair was the first to introduce the ‘stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ bargain-basement shopping philosophy into the airline business. It’s a win-win for airline crew. They get to insult and humiliate passengers, who accept all the aggravation as payback for their cheap seats.

Airport designers have constructed vast retail temples, where an hour of spare time magically excites the pallet and stimulates a primitive urge to procure a range of tasteless goods… and where the price of a stale ham sandwich and a bottle of Bulgarian bottled water means selling your children into slavery. Extreme hunger and thirst kick in. It’s as if everyone is of a hypoglycemic disposition, or has just run the ultramarathon in Death Valley.

Travel no longer broadens the mind, if it ever did. It broadens the backside. And if an opportunity for self discovery is on your bucket list, then let me help you – you are meat; a number, and with all that ugly mountain of baggage, you are a burden on the bottom line of commercial carriers.

Unwritten laws govern the pathetic peregrination called air travel. Here’s a couple: 1. We must leave the plane with the crushing intensity of an obstinacy of buffalo (what a wonderful collective noun). 2. Passengers seated in the front half of the plane enjoy an inalienable right to block the aisle and leave first. This despite having ordinary seats like everyone else and failing to notice that the placement of seating does not constitute a queue.

Here’s a tip: take a train. A recent budget flight in Spain via Barcelona took us 10 hours shower to shower. The train would have got us there in nine hours and cost 20% less. If you take the train, you don’t need to get up in the dark and fork out a few hundred for a cab to the airport. There’s no checking for exploding shoes, no series of infantile announcements en route, and no perfunctory pleasantries to be exchanged with the crew on arrival. And no need to genuflect to the pilot who got you there.

Better yet, stay home. It’s nice here.

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20 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.


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