The morning of any big trip starts with a false start, as it should, and mine happened at 0500. I received a call from Georgie (with whom I was staying in Bangkok for the first few days of my trip). “I’m sorry! I got stuck in Cambodia. Where the hell in Bangkok are you? Are you okay?” I explained the dates in my email to her were wrong so I arrive the following day. Were it not so early in the morning I may have been quick witted enough to reply “I’m in an underground basement in Bangkok being forced to play Russian roulette, we’re four rounds in and I don’t fancy my chances any longer, hurry!”. Without a coffee I just wasn’t quick enough for that.
The journey to the airport was without incident after a final breakfast with my family at the pub in Heathrow Terminal 3, I had set off towards security. My digital boarding pass on the Emirates App didn’t work and I’m sent back to the check-in desk to get my boarding pass printed. Though incredibly annoying at the time, it was only a small hiccup made less noticeable as I made my way through security without the random security check to which I had become very familiar.
Upon arriving at the departure gate, I quickly fell into my bording gate routine – I assure you such things exist and you do it too you just don’t know it. My eyes rapidly dart around the room registering the layout, the number of seats and which seats are unoccupied. My eyes quickly fixate on the seat I want: it’s close to and facing a window, close enough to the gate so I can make a bee line for the queue as soon as possible, and the current neighbours to the seat look tolerable. Good seat chosen. Good start.
The routine continues, I grab my kindle from my bag and sit with it closed in my hand as my attention moves to my iPhone; I get my smartphone fix. They say each session on a smartphone wastes more than 5 mins of your life*; I’ll rue the day when we have to go outside to get a smartphone fix.
People start to arrive so my focus softens from the digital world. As discreetly and unsuspiciously as I can, I start to register the people that will be locked in a metal can with me for the next few hours; my brain subconsciously counts (as naturally as possible) the proportion of families and children (note please don’t try this with a beard). The prognosis looked grim. Lots of children. Loud, noisy, crying children. I become aware of something I’m missing but can’t place my finger on it. The thought disappears and I conclude that there are disproportionately more children on my flight. I always find myself on a flight with an above average proportion of crying children.^
I was on the plane fast and it looked mostly empty. I found my seat and crossed my fingers, hoping what everyone hopes. My first neighbour arrives, he had the window seat. Not quite the insanely smart, outrageously attractive model I was hoping for – but credit where it’s due, if she was a girl she did an amazing job looking like a close to middle aged, slightly overweight, man. As things go it could be worse, he is not a child.
Within 10 minutes the front section of the magnificent A380 sounds like a nursery. Fingers still crossed but now with the hope Senheiser deliver on their promise of noise isolating headphones (they did). My final neighbour arrives. With him came the sudden realisation of what I noticed at the gate. The coughing. With my neighbour came a frequent chesty cough that I knew would annoy me for the next 6.5 hrs and an acute awareness that my plane was actually a hospital ward with an ambience of crying children. 6.5 hours – with some English passive aggressive staring when he didn’t use his hand – later I hop off at Dubai airport.
Summary of my 2.5hr stop off: look there’s shops, walks into Heinneken bar, underwhelming delight when Liverpool score**, underwhelming malaise when Arsenal equalise*** 30 seconds later, overwhelming indifference when Arsenal score again, board flight.
I didn’t manage to get much sleep on the second flight but being awake was more then tolerable without the backdrop of crying coughs. I killed time talking to my neighbour who was on his way back home to Bangkok from Afghanistan. He worked for the UN carrying out inspections on mining equipment to help countries mine safely. The conversation did the trick and before I knew it we were on the approach to Bangkok.
I walked into Heathrow from the freezing cold, I walk out of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport into a beautiful 32 degrees celsius.
*They don’t really say that
^For a race of people known for regressing to the mean, we always seem terrible at identifying the mean.
**i don’t watch or follow football but had a slight glimmer of loyalty towards Liverpool as the team of choice of my host family
***i would equally have had a slight glimmer of loyalty and underwhelming delight if my host family were Arsenal supporters