Flying long haul is never a pleasant thing, at least in economy.
I was heading back to London from a two-week holiday in Thailand recently and despite my best efforts to upgrade with miles, I had only managed an emergency-exit seat in row 18 on this particular Boeing 777.
I had dozed in and out of sleep during the taxi and only woke up after taking off from Bangkok. We had reached our cruising altitude and were now heading out towards the Andaman Sea. I pushed the recline button on my seat for a little more shut-eye but realised something was wrong. The chair wasn't going back.
I tried reclining it again. First try: no luck. Second try: nothing either. But instead of giving up, I pushed my chair back with some oomph. The battle for seat 18k had to stop. I politely turned around and asked the young woman who had been using my chair like a leg press and pushing against me. “Would you mind if I put my chair back a little so I can sleep?” I asked. Her reply? “No.”
I was shocked. “Sorry?” I said. The woman, who looked to be in her twenties, replied, “You have all that space with your legs up there and I have none. Sorry, but no; I’m not letting you recline at all.” The back-and-forth continued for several minutes as I implored her to let common sense prevail. Luckily the seat next to me was free so I humbly moved over. One of the flight attendants apologised on the passenger’s behalf.
Over the next few hours I began thinking: what was wrong with this person? Did the Southeast Asian sun melt her brain and all shreds of decency? But then the unthinkable happened – she stretched out her legs on my armrests, her twig-like legs popping through. What was happening?
Somewhere over India, I had the thought that maybe she just had never flown before. Maybe she didn't know anything about cabin etiquette.
So here’s my proposition for all first-time flyers out there. Let’s hand them a Flying 101 handbook that outlines all the little things that can make everyone’s flight a little more enjoyable. We can do this discretely, of course, perhaps in a small envelope welcoming them onboard. When to recline, how to share an arm rest, leave the window shade down if it’s a night flight, wipe down the sink when you've used it – that sort of thing. But if all that stationery is too costly for the airlines, maybe we could have the flight attendants incorporate it into their safety briefing.
A recent survey by a leading travel operator found that “rear-seat kickers” and inattentive parents were the most offensive aeroplane-etiquette violators. Closely followed by sitting next to an aromatic passenger or a chatty Cathy.
So let’s bring back sanity and common sense to the skies – at least in economy.
Phil Han is a producer for Monocle 24.