Prince Philip, god love him, once stated that improvements in air travel over the years have provided the passenger with more comfort, and less noise. He did, however, add: ‘provided you don’t travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly.’
Perhaps it is ghastly (a term that is only used, it seems, by those of a nobler birth than me) yet I like to think of flying economy as a kind of soul-enriching experience that helps me be a better person.
If I didn’t, I’d spend every long haul flight to the UK in absolute panic over the closeness of the stranger next to me, the lack of room, the lack of air, and having to do some hyper-skilled yoga moves to get out of my seat in order to use the bathroom. The whole situation would make me angry and bitter. It’s not good for anyone to be angry and bitter for a twenty-four hour period.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention the food. This is because I love the food. There. Said it. Airplane food is one of life’s pleasures. A little parcel of surprise, like a lucky dip. You’re never quite sure of what the contents will be, no matter what it says on the menu.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sitting in your (economy) seat, waiting for your fellow passengers to board and seeing which you’ll end up with as a buddy for the flight. There’s hope and anticipation built into this wait. The hope that it’ll be someone nice, who won’t mind if you have to get up six times during the flight to wee. The hope that the person themselves will not have to get up six times to wee. That they won’t snore. That they won’t take up half of your seat with their girth. That they won’t have a screaming baby in their arms.
There’s nothing like the relief when someone average-looking, someone without the screaming baby or sizable girth or apparent body odour issues sits in the seat next to you. It gives you a joyful, thanking-the-universe feeling that you would never get in any other situation. The best of the lot is the feeling you get when you realise (because the plane is now taxying and there’s no chance anyone else can get on the plane) that the seat next to you is EMPTY! That joy, that absolute euphoria is something that could never be felt in first or business class.
There is no other situation in life which puts you in such close contact with a total stranger for such a long period of time. For those hours you are within the personal space of another human being and you paid for the privilege. In the higher classes you would never have the scenario of waking up from a nap to find your head rested on the shoulder of your neighbour. You would never have the short glimpse into a stranger’s life – like finding out your fellow passenger was on his way to his engagement party, having never met his fiancé before. The little things that enriches the soul. That’s what economy brings you.
During one flight I had the shared experience with the woman sitting next to me where we deplored all other passengers for using the coveted empty space before us to queue for the loos. With our feet constantly being trodden on, it was nice to have someone to turn to whom I could roll my eyes at in a ‘can you believe this?’ manner. When we parted at our stop over, this fellow passenger gave me the book she had just finished and a sleeping pill for our next journey. The book turned out to be a Fifty Shades type read. Drugs and porn. Would you get that in first class?
So while it is easy to view flying economy as a torturous scenario you must endure in order to get to your destination, I choose to view it as a life experience that betters me as a person. Flying economy teaches me humility, patience, kindness and respect.
Not ghastly at all.