I have never been a particularly happy flyer. Despite having the laws of physics explained to me I cannot (and refuse to) understand why aeroplanes stay in the sky. I do not sleep well on the eve of a flight, dwelling, unwillingly, on any number of the aviation horror stories that have appeared in the news over the last few years. I pay particular attention to the pilot’s welcome announcement and try to determine his* mental state. If he greets us cheerily I breathe a sigh of relief and begin to relax. If I detect an undercurrent of anything other than rapturous delight I am immediately transported into the world of ‘Dad’s Army’, as Private Fraser’s voice echoes round my head: ‘We’re doomed!’
Living abroad, however, and flying home at regular intervals to remind my siblings of my continued existence (as well as to stock up on essential cheese and chocolate – France and Switzerland may be masters in the milk industry, but sometimes nothing compares to a piece of strong cheddar and a Dairy Milk bar**), has made me more or less resigned to the 90-minute ordeal, and I was beginning to grow almost complacent when the birth of my son altered everything. Travelling with a baby probably does as much for one’s life expectancy as smoking forty-a-day. Keeping an infant of a generally curious and rascally nature (who loves aeroplanes) still for an extended period of time requires patience and ingenuity. Keeping this same (restrained) infant quiet doesn’t bear thinking about.
Last Sunday, then, I took my first solo flight back to the UK in roughly two and a half years. It was one of the most relaxing experiences I have had in months. Twelve years after my maiden flight I finally understood how to achieve flying nirvana. Here are my thoughts on the subject:
- Under no circumstances allow anybody to sit on your lap. This is fundamental to the success of the whole flight, as it ensures that your leg muscles stay unseized and awake.
- Bring a long book and read it continuously from the moment you enter the airport until such time as you have passed through passport control at your destination (saving the few occasions when you are obliged to communicate with other human beings, such as going through security, showing passports and boarding cards, memorising the emergency protocol and acting as the pilot’s personal psychiatrist). I unearthed ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, which I had started as my ‘Summer holiday book’ (managing a full two chapters in one week!), and, during my round trip devoured well over a hundred pages – bliss!
- Take no responsibility for providing the inflight entertainment – this will greatly reduce stress levels. On my outward journey a choir of three of four babies was performing in harmony on and off for the duration of the flight. I was unfazed – I was not conducting. Mine can scream louder.
- Pack everything into one cabin bag. Then get off the plane, swagger down the corridors, throwing a backwards laugh at those waiting at baggage claim, and get on with life.
- Do not bring any of the following: buggy, car seat, nappy bag, hold luggage (comprising almost entirely extra baby clothes for all the inevitable little ‘accidents’), doudou for the baby (sadistic and evil, it will attempt to wander off and hide at any and every opportunity, in order to ruin your life). It is also advisable to refrain from appearing as though you have just held up a toy shop.
- Take care to avoid sitting next to excitable husbands, humming the terror-inducing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ at take off (on every single flight).
- Decline the highly expensive aeroplane snacks and eat a sandwich à emporter courtesy of lovely parents. The feeling of being taken care of is so luxurious.
- Chat with confidence to the passenger beside you (should you both feel so inclined), revelling in the knowledge that at no point on the flight will you need to apologise in shame for any screaming, kicking or unwholesome smells.
- Remember not to succumb to the temptation of changing a nappy in a cramped metal box at thirty thousand feet. It isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.
*I am still looking forward to encountering a female pilot.
**Not at the same time, although I am now wondering if this might not be a heavenly partnership (I do, after all, enjoy Christmas cake mainly for the cheese and icing combination).
Mots du jour:
voyager toute seule – to fly alone (f) doudou – cuddly toy/comforter un plat à emporter – a takeaway