In the instant I reserve a commercial flight seat, I make my peace with death. Long before I attempt the doleful drive to the airport, confront the ashen mask-of-death that is the check in attendant or hobble down the passenger bridge with fear-moistened boarding pass in hand, I Just Know I Am Going To Die.
I see others gape at aircraft, or Birds of Certain Death as I prefer to know them, and I am acquainted with their anguish. Their bloodless faces demand: How will 100,000 kilograms of hydraulics, metal and pure faith stay in the air? Is fuselage Old French for fiery death? Why do they call this building a ‘terminal’? All, as far as this passenger is concerned, resolutely reasonable questions.
There is little that can appease the nervous flier. The jagged edge of panic cuts through mini-Gins. Lessons in aeronautical theory, adamant air-safety statistics and yogic breathing will not blunt the fear. When you know in your gut that the undercarriage strut will fall, the afterburner will melt and jam acceleration will deliver you shortly right into the blistering maw of hell, even prescription sedatives refuse to work.
In the squall of mile-high torture, however, I can sometimes find a nook of hope. If there is a legitimately senior flight attendant aboard wearing foundation garments and wielding Safety Procedures Card as though it were a teething ring, I can be pacified. With an unsmiling face that plainly conveys reassuring concepts like Contingency Plan and Best Practice, only she can soothe. And when, like a chaste Greek Goddess, she commandeers a humourless Safety Demonstration, my fists, for a moment, unclench.
This is not to say, of course, that I do not spend the duration of a flight thinking about my own scorching casualty. However, if a grim and artful Safety Demonstration is performed, then, just for an instant, my unwell fantasies of death can retreat. Instead of instant mortality, I can picture the uniformed matriarch saving me as I lurch down a tattered safety chute. Inevitably, I then see a desert isle future where the burly flight attendant strangles me with an oxygen mask and then eats my remains with plastic cutlery. But that’s ok. Those beggared by airline disaster can’t be choosers, you know.
Qantas, as it happens, has surly attendants and sombre Safety Demonstrations to spare. And so, despite the food and service being, at best, unremarkable, it is my preferred carrier. You can, then, imagine my vexation when a recent obligation found me flying Virgin Blue.
Richard Branson appears to have the attention span of a Koi carp. Further, he keeps trying to fly about in a Hot Air balloon. I do not regard concentration deficiency and aeronautical risk-taking as suitable qualities for the CEO of an airline. However, as I was broke and powerless, I waited in line at Virgin Blue.
Before me was a handsome couple in their early thirties. One half of the couple asked the attendant the approximate boarding time. ‘Thirty minutes’ trilled the chipper hunk behind the desk. ‘Just long enough for a quickie!’. Two members of Virgin Blue’s Dirty Weekend target market giggled. I Just Knew I Was Going To Die.
Aboard the Death Craft, I flipped through the inflight magazine. On occasion, the poor literary standard of airline literature can take my mind from incineration. I looked for something temperate. Perhaps an article on inflight dental hygiene. No. Just pictures of Richard Branson wearing garlands of near naked ladies. I Just Knew I Was Going To Die.
I looked about desperately for reassurance. None of the air’s true stewards, gay men and older ladies, were to be seen. And amid my confusion and a blaze of canned break beats, I had missed the beginning of the Safety Demonstration.
More like a Spice Girls video than aviation safety, the young lady bumped, ground and giggled her way through a mockery of my Certain Death. She sucked on the oxygen mask as though it were amyl nitrate, caressed the safety card much in the manner of a pole dancer and indicated the safety exits as though they were the doors to Gomorrah.
The acme of her tease unfurled as she took the ‘safety’ whistle to her full lips and breathed ‘use the whistle to attract attention. Of the opposite sex!’.
The Dirty Weekenders screamed with laughter. I Just Knew I Was Going To Die.