Friday, 16 December 2016

The good cheer of others

Its ironic, considering how high it takes us, but air travel has become one of the least uplifting experiences of our age, hasn’t it?

There was a time when it was regarded as something of a luxury, but that’s long behind us. Today, planes just cart us around with as much consideration as if they were buses. To be honest, I’ve been on London buses which gave me more of a sense of wellbeing.

All this is particularly true of low-cost airlines. Or should that be lo-cost? It feels like one of those words that just cries for misspelling, like lite, and it communicates precisely the same sense of up-market, high-quality, good living. In fact, I think that lo-cost airlines do more than anything else to illustrate the principle that you get what you pay for and that a service is worth its price.

Still, sometimes the experience is less ghastly than at others. I caught a flight at 7:00 in the morning the other day, a pretty dire thing to do as a general rule. But my gloom was lifted by the atmosphere on the plane: it was full of people going on holiday and obviously pleased to be on their way. There were at least two school trips for kids from different age groups from the same girls’ school – or it may have been a mixed school but there were only girls on the trips – and they seemed to derive delight from being on the plane at all, judging by the way they were laughing and playing the whole way over.

Even their teachers seemed to be caught up in the atmosphere, bantering with the girls. “When we get there, remember to take all your things with you. Leave your phone on the plane and you’ve lost it. I’m not fighting through the authorities to get back on board to find it.” It seems that Tina had done just that on the previous trip.

I also enjoyed the conversation with the hostess who, like me, had seen Sully recently. She’d asked me to sit in an emergency exit row and briefed me on opening the door which had led quite naturally to talking about that gripping film about the plane that had to ditch in New York’s Hudson river. Haven’t seen it? Don’t write it off as a hopelessly trivial thrills-and-spills film. It’s a lot better than that, cleverly structured, tightly directed and excellently acted.

We agreed we’d probably prefer if we didn’t have to land in the Channel or any of the rivers we were likely to encounter on our trip. It was a bit cold (a fact that reminded of us of one of the better lines in the film, from the First Officer who, asked what he would do differently if he had to do it again, replied “I’d do it in July”; the Hudson river landing had taken place on a freezing day in February). 

Still, at least if we had been forced to ditch, I’d have known exactly what to do with the door.

Lo-cost view of the Alps
Definitely not the place for a Sully
There were even some young women behind me who seemed as cheerful as the girls (at 7:00 in the morning. Can you imagine?) 

One of them was on the phone on the ground at Gatwick.

“Mum, Mum, guess where I am?”

This was an unpromising start, I felt, rather like the painfully clichéd “I’m on a train.”

“No, no, it’s me. Just guess where I am.”

Mum was obviously having some trouble focusing. I could picture her, probably still in bed, trying to understand why she was being called at that God-forsaken hour but her soon to be less-than-favourite daughter.

“Guess where I am, guess where I am!”

I can’t imagine what Mum was saying. “You’re standing by a car crash, since I can’t think of any other good reason for ringing me this early?” I know it’s what I’d say. Or at least think.

“No, no, I’m on a plane. Veronica and Alice talked me into going with them. Isn’t that fantastic?”

Fantastic? Not the word I’d have used for being on a lo-cost flight at that time of day. But enthusiasm is infectious and, with the good cheer of the girls, it improved my mood.

Why, I wasn’t even curt when I got off the plane, formal jacket on, laptop bag over one shoulder and cabin-luggage suitcase in the other – the uniform, surely, of the common-or-garden business manager about his common-or-garden business – and a hostess cheerily said, “Enjoy your holiday”.

I just smiled and thanked her. 

Almost warmly.

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