Long-haul flights are the worst thing in the world

Tell me again why I can’t listen to my iPod during take-off

A long time ago, back when doctors encouraged pregnant teenagers to strawpedo thalidomide and Donald Trump was a mere dickhead fresher, air travel was a big deal. Whoever coined the phrase “jet set” wanted a ready, easy shorthand for cartoon wealth, sixties hedonism and proud exclusivity: Cannes, Audrey Hepburn, dry Martinis.

It’s difficult to think of a modern equivalent, and that’s because in the intervening half century – despite curing smallpox, putting a man on the moon and turning Nicholas Cage into a Oscar winner – extending these once unthinkable advances to airliners has proved impossible to the nerds who run the world, who have instead conspired to somehow turn the once dreamy experience of travelling by plane one of the worst things ever. 

Nothing about this is a classy way to travel

Nothing about this is a classy way to travel

There’s no longer anything exotic or glamorous about travelling by air. Whether BA or Ryanair, you’re trapped in a dentist’s waiting room at 40,000ft – an altitude which the crooning pilot, updating you on your progress with all the vivacity and insight of Phil Neville commentating on a snail’s funeral, is under no circumstances going to have you forget – with fixtures, fittings and defiantly standoffish customer service trapped in a world where time stopped in 2002 and people don’t grow past 4’5″.

There’s no escape on a plane: your only choice is to endure 12 inches of legroom for as many hours, Playmobil-sized meals steamed into shapeless, tasteless anonymity (Thomas Cook are almost certainly the only people who can make a cottage pie taste exactly the same as tandoori chicken – and not in a good way), the groin of your nameless neighbour in your face when it’s time to sample the surely illegally pokey toilets and the spittle-flecked discipline of the permatanned stewardess who still believes your iPod Nano is going to down the plane as it takes off. 

I spent a lot of time on planes last year, flying variously to Barcelona, Prague and Florida. Neither distance nor destination made a difference: a plane is always a sweaty, stuffy pressure cooker dense with people of habits and sensibilities so violently incompatible that the only other place they could possibly spend time together would be a BBC3 reality show. Everyone – especially you – is reduced to being an impatient, insufferable dickhead.

If you don’t end up on the wrong side of the tutting Range Rover mums having their seats kicked by foghorn-mouthed kids spitting dry roasted peanuts onto smashed iPads or the second stags chinning warm cans of Magners and taking Kolo Toure’s name in vain, then you’ll be undone by the dependable screaming baby and the monobrowed schoolboys talking loudly about their bodily functions to nobody in particular while dropping their bags on silent, judging retirees. 

And then it’s all over. Or not. You finally land and the plane limps in a figure of eight around every corner of the airport. You start to twitch and deep inside you start pranging as you feel a week’s worth of Whatsapp burst through the floodgates. Another ten minutes passes. The pilot returns to the airwaves, like a pub DJ eulogising Freddie Mercury to an empty room. He calls you folks. Another five minutes pass. You grind to a stop. Off clicks the seatbelt sign – now come those ten golden minutes stooped bow-legged between seats, staring at the door as you weigh up who you’re allowed to push in front of to get into the sweaty slipstream leading you home.

And then it’s fucking baggage reclaim. How much is an Inter-railing pass again?