There’s nothing like air travel to reinforce the notion that hell is other people. And it’s all so much worse if they have recently spawned. If adults carried on like children, we’d be locked up. There ought to be a special unit that patrols public places having a stern word with disorderly toddlers and their criminally incompetent parents.
I’m not even talking about the gibbering horrors of a long-haul flight. Cape Town to Durban is enough. I flew this route four months ago on Mango. It cost R900 return. Last week, FlySafair charged me R4 500. I tried other airlines but they were either bankrupt or you needed a doctorate to understand their websites.
One site described FlySafair as “the world’s most punctual airline”. That’s a wild claim to make in a country where if anything runs at all, it definitely doesn’t do it on time. Being South African, I am unimpressed by punctuality. Not being late counts for naught if your intentions are to rob or murder me.
Punctuality is not the first thing I look for in an airline. I want cheap fares, plenty of leg-room and lashings of free alcohol. Pole dancers and tame cheetahs would be a bonus. Why would I care if you take off on time? That only means I have to drive even faster to the airport. As for reaching your destination when you say you will, well, there aren’t many planes that take off on schedule and arrive an hour late. They aren’t taxis. They don’t run out of petrol or stop because a passenger needs a wee.
Having said that, my pilot did seem unusually keen to get going. He began reversing with a passenger still standing in the aisle staring slack-jawed at his boarding pass, unable to comprehend the terrible reality of having been assigned a middle seat after specifically requesting an emergency exit in order to be first out in the event of an unexpected landing on something other than a runway.
The plane was packed. People were being stuffed in from the front and the back. It was obscene. It reminded me of how pate de foie gras is made, but at least the goose only gets it from one end. I was on the aisle in the seat that is always the first to go when the plane breaks in half or catches fire. You’d think it would come with a discount.
I was also directly beneath the intercom, which was turned up high so that passengers at the back could hear what not to do to avoid criminal charges. The flight attendant had one of those voices that tears through your occipital bone like a blunt circular saw, forcing irrational and potentially dangerous thoughts into your head.
I turned around to see if I could make a run for it, but the doors had closed. A woman two rows back made eye contact and smiled at me. She was wearing what looked like a suicide bomber’s vest but instead of explosives, she had babies strapped to her. Her mask was off and she was licking some kind of feeding device. I narrowed my eyes at her. That’s the good thing about masks. Narrow your eyes and people assume you’re smiling back at them, allowing you to mouth obscenities.
We were told that no food or drinks would be served. Possibly because of Covid but more likely the airline was worried that showing us the slightest bit of hospitality could delay the flight by thirty seconds, leaving their reputation in tatters.
We were 500m off the ground when I discovered there were babies everywhere. One of the litter behind me started screaming. This set off the others. Like hadedas, but worse. Why is nobody working on a device that you can put around hysterical sucklings to protect innocent bystanders from the hideous sounds pouring from their half-formed face holes? Perhaps some sort of soundproofed box that seals around the neck.
And another thing. What is the point of blocking off every second seat in the airport and then herding us onto a plane where, short of being on one another’s laps, it’s physically impossible to sit any closer. The only time I ever have someone’s head that near to mine, it usually ends with my tongue in their mouth.
We were assured that the aircraft was fitted with awesome filters that cleaned the air every three minutes. The average adult, of which there are far too many in this world, exhales around 45 times in three minutes. That’s enough to transmit all manner of unspeakable things. A German free diver once held his breath underwater for 22 minutes. This is where we’re headed. Thanks to evolution, we’ll one day be able to not breathe for the duration of a domestic flight.
After that, it’s gills and back to the ocean.