The flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney is 14 hours long.
I sat next to my wife and waited for takeoff. The seats next to me were taken up with… Child, child, mum, baby, child.
In the aisle was a particularly frustrated looking father comparing tickets. It seemed that the airline had glitched and split them up. I took my opportunity. "I'll swap seats. I've already travelled with my wife for 8 hours from London. I'm sure she's sick of me by now".
And thus I left her by herself to put up with the frustrations of infants for 14 hours. Yes indeed, and there would surely be no 'uppance' coming to our hero as he placed himself by the window.
The first thing that stuck me was the smell.
People from different cultures have different diets and habits. Very few enjoyable smells are described as 'novel' and the funk being given off by this gentleman after his own long flight from Lebanon was no exception. After a few conversational gambits it turned out that English was far from his first language and that he would most assuredly be in no way interested in swapping seats with my wife.
He didn't even know about the babies.
In the seats ahead of me a head-strong woman in a head scarf was dealing with a similar ticketing glitch. She wanted to sit next to her ailing mother but the victim had already swapped once and was sick of it. None-the-less it didn't take much bullying to move her from her seat. Scarf woman and her mother knew what they wanted and they were going to have it. I envied her ability to be a dick.
Before the seatbelt sign had even finished chiming the two seat backs in front of us crashed back. Now I'm not a fan of it but I understand it's the concession that must be made to be able to lean back yourself in these circumstances. I turned and shrugged to my flight mate then paused to note the rage in his eyes.
Possibly these were my own bigotries exposing themselves but this seemed like a man not accustomed to a lack of respect from the women in his life.
This is where the muttering started.
They say that only 17% of communication is the actual words that you use. Listening to his dialect I got a pretty good idea of what he was trying to communicate.
I watched a movie and eventually the meal service came by. He tapped me on the shoulder.
"Is this pork?"
I looked down at the compressed white nugget in front of me. I wasn't even sure it was meat.
"The menu says it's fish."
He took a tentative bite.
"Bha! It's pork. They've served me pork."
Etihad Air is not routinely know for their pork dishes.
"There's no pork on the menu at all" I said.
The muttering returned.
I decided now was a good time to go to the bathroom. I noticed that there was not a single seat available. The classes on Etihad flights are Diamond, Pearl and Coral though I am now firmly of the opinion that they misspelled the word 'corral'.
I found myself down the tail end of the plane knocking back gin and tonics and striking up conversations with every other person stretching their legs. When the stewardesses noticed I hadn't returned to my seat I mentioned my stinky travel partner and they knew exactly who I was talking about.
I asked whether there were any other seats on the plane that I might move to. I wasn't precious. They could upgrade me if that made it easier. Alas, there were none.
Five hours of Gin and Tonics later I ended up back in my seat and managed to grab some shut eye. I awoke to more muttering and the women in the scarf turned in her seat and made a pointed rebuttal. Suddenly there was shouting and thumping of seats and without thinking I jammed my cushions between them.
"We do NOT, " I exclaimed to the pungent mutterer, "TALK to people like that!".
His voice dropped but the abuse continued. Stewards flocked in to deal with the issue. I decided it was time for another gin and tonic. I overheard the stewardesses making plans. It seemed that one more transgression from my flight mate and the police would be waiting.
When we arrived back in Oz I breathed out again. It had been a hell ride, but at least I hadn't had to sit next to whinging kids the entire time.
"How was your flight?" I asked.
My wife responded "Not so bad. Those kids were so well behaved. You want to get something to eat?"
"Pork" I replied.
Sounds like the guy was quite the dick. Bigotries aside, the capacity to a dick is a human trait, not a racial one. Well, that's my opinion, anyway.
Long haul flights are bad enough, but you lost the lottery on that one. AND you'd even swapped tickets on purpose. ;)