My name is Charles, and for the last ten years I have been an amateur musician working in the professional sector. During this time it has been my pleasure and privilege to travel the world.
When working in Greater Europe, the chosen mode of transport is, more often than not, a tour bus – a vehicle that I find agreeable, despite it involving sleeping in a carpet-lined coffin for up to 40 nights, and due to the toilets being ‘liquid only’, having to be fairly proclamatory about your bowel’s rhythms to arrange a “stop-off”. When requests come in from overseas, however, well then until Eurostar extend their pipe system to Peoria, Illinois, we gotta fly.
I can’t say that I have ever found flying (and the foreplay and fallout that comes with it) much more than a tedious and uncomfortable necessity. Whether it be tiny, shuddering Norwegian propeller planes landing blind in fog on sheets of ice, Russian stewardesses offering me compensation of a single tissue with which to plug an air conditioning unit that’s keenly pissing water onto my scalp, the flight to America that “forgot the food”, or the menagerie of antisocial passengers everyone has encountered and hopes in vain never to again, I find the whole rigmarole to be a pain in the coccyx that is tough to alleviate. Commercial planes, compared to say cars, or trains, have not made leaps and bounds in comfort and functionality in the last thirty years. The emphasis for development has been on making the miracle of flight more affordable. In 1969 a flight from London to Helsinki could have set you back £1200, where as today, the budget airlines can whisk you away from Glasgow to an Essoueran souk for the cost of two lavender daiquiris – a remarkable feat that opens travel up to all who possess a sense of adventure and a valid passport. For that reason I’m loathe to hearing slander against the budget airlines: They make no claims to be much more than a cheap orange stepping stone across the sky, and we should be thankful for their no-frills frugality if it is the difference between going somewhere or going nowhere. I’m not writing to whinge about why I dislike flying, most of my qualms are unoriginal and shared by many; the screaming babies that have robbed frequencies from my hearing, the lost luggage, the time a Japanese stewardess force-fed me a banana after the plane had landed because I had rejected the airline meal in lieu of my own packed lunch…but instead, I want to share a few practical “upgrades” to my otherwise economy experience that I have made over the years. Some will seem base, but Hey-Ho.
1. Upgrade Your Own Legroom
The first thing I do when I locate my assigned seat is get that literature the hell out of the pocket on the back of the seat in front of mine. On some airlines you might have a safety card, an inflight magazine, a thick duty-free brochure, a sick bag, a pair of flight-socks or a sleeping mask, a newspaper, who knows! This stuff could measure up to a thickness of well over an inch, and all it’s doing is blocking your beautiful legs that deserve better. Some ‘premium economy’ seats on airlines only actually boast about an inch extra legroom than their economy seats, so by removing all this crud, and stowing it above you in the overhead locker, you’re halfway to lacklustre luxury, and one miniature Cava bottle away from feeling like Chaka Khan.
2. Get yourself a bag-bag
Continuing on with the theme of personal space, this has been a game-changer for me. What I like to call a bag-bag, can be thought of as an oversized beltless bumbag (fanny-pack), liberally adorned with pockets of all sizes and functions. Delfonics, the fine Japanese stationary company, make a beautiful one.
In this bag-bag (which until boarding, sits poised at the top of my rucksack) I can fit everything and more I could ever desire during a flight. Here’s what it can hold with miraculous Mary Poppins-esque efficiency:
- 2 modest length novels
- An Ipad
- A charger and/or portable charger.
- Flight socks and eye mask (if you’re into that)
- Several small tubes of cosmetics (moisturiser or whatever)
- Packeted tea-bags (always fun bringing your own interesting teas, and a great conversation starter with your neighbour or a steward/ess)
- Comb (beard)
- Headphones (ear-bud – these actually cancel noise better than some big ones. I recommend these.
- Pens and pencils (Always have one handy to fill out international landing cards)
- Various pills or medicine, including painkillers or sleeping pills.
- ipod classic.
- A tube of sweets like Fruit Gums
- Chewing gum
- *I don’t smoke or vape, but lord knows I could fit a vape pen in there*
Using a bag-bag like this enables you to have everything you need at your disposal, and it will happily lie under your seat or the seat in front of you leaving all your legroom and foot-space totally clear. The last thing you want is to be putting a rucksack or a satchel etc down there.
– As a side note, I’ve found the rucksack as the best kind of cabin bag to travel with. My rucksack of choice comes from the fine people at P&O. Plenty of pockets, including a secret one for your Dong or Rubles, and front pockets for easy access to things that will speed up the pre-board process.
3. Have yourself a little stand-chat
Anyone will tell you the importance of stretching your legs and keeping your body moving during a flight, but I’ve found a great way to do this is to pre-arrange a little ‘meet-up’ with a travelling partner at an emergency exit door. Depending on the aircraft size, these are usually preceded by a large alcove of prime standing space. I once had a good 90min upright conversation with a friend, Martin, on a flight to Tokyo in such a lay-by. This is not only a great way to pass the time and get to know your friends a little better, but theres nobody on this earth who’s going to stop you doing a few subtle squats or calve-raises whilst you’re chatting. If you hit some turbulence – no problem – return to your seats and reconvene asap.
4. Upgrade your manners, upgrade your kindness.
This is going to sound a little trite but, holy shit, does it pay to be nice. The liminal misery of airports and airplanes seems to put people on edge, and often tricks their decorum into some kind of primal fight-or-flight (lol) state, bordering on plain rudeness. I don’t mind telling you, that being bonafide fucking lovely towards airport and airplane staff has got me spontaneously upgraded twice, saved me hundreds on excess baggage costs, secured my own private airplane toilet in which to vomit for 7 hours on a flight back from Beirut having been food poisoned by some rogue Carbonara the night before, and saved me and my Dad a 9-hour detour to Singapore, when travelling from Tibet to London. All this and more, simply by making a conscientious effort to be as genuinely affable as I can. People in airports get shouted at every day; be a beautiful human being and you will see cash-back.
5. You wouldn’t want them putting shit fuel in the plane, so don’t put shit fuel in your belly.
Airplane food; the nadir of comedy topics. I’m not going to go too deep into this. Next time you get a little cookie or a muffin in an airplane meal, have a good read of the ingredients on the packaging. Now, I’ve been known to bake at home, and I’ve not made any cookies that need more chemistry jargon in them than a Breaking Bad online fan forum. Harry, vocalist in White Lies, has got a few conspiracy theories about plane food (and manipulated cabin atmosphere) related to the artificial deterrence of normal bowel activity. Now, I’m not sure where I stand on that, but I have to say, I’m not enthused about ingesting most plane food. If you can’t be bothered to bring your own, like I try to do, then I can recommend ticking the ‘Asian Food Option’ on your flight bookings. These are always the best and most nutritious looking dishes, and anyone is welcome to one. If you do decide to bring your own packed lunch in a little cool-bag like I do, then you can enjoy turning an hour of your flight into a fun picnic. I guarantee you’ll be the envy of your neighbours, and if you’re looking to make friends, pack an extra satsuma or two as speculative benefaction. There’s nothing like the perfumed mist of satsuma skin’s oil wafting 20,000 feet above the Earth to make everyone’s taste buds a little aroused.
6. Location, Location!
Here’s a quick one: when booking your seat, try to avoid the wings. It gets really loud near those guys, and just behind them. So loud that even a great pair of headphones is rendered pretty futile. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, stay clear!
7. Kiss your body
I’m of the opinion that flying is pretty damn unhealthy. A quarantine of suspended germs and recycled air for up to 13 hours isn’t exactly a haven of wellness. Just try and be friendly to your body before and after a big flight. Hit the gym, swim, eat well, drink lots of water…whatever – just over-compensate for the purgatory you’re about to endure. There’s been so many occasions that I’ve got off of a long flight and instantly been hit with a cold.
8. Always tell someone you love them before you fly, and certainly never fly with an unresolved conflict with a loved one .
This is a big one that doesn’t need too much explaining. Being away a lot naturally causes a bit of tension or sadness between me and my loved ones, from time to time. But, I always make sure that before I get on a flight, a tell my girlfriend I love her, and I would never fly with a personal international conflict unresolved. Get on the phone, and use some of that kindness you used earlier to negotiate out of a penalty charge due to your bag that weighs 6.9kg too much. Don’t tell me you don’t have someone who wouldn’t appreciate a little ‘I love you’ before you fly. You know there’s someone. I like to think, before they flew out from that prison of a tower, Icarus gave his Dad a little hug, maybe even a kiss on the head.
Well, there you go. That’s all I have the patience for. I hope that this insight hasn’t been totally useless. But if it has, take care and all the very best.
Words by Charles Cave of White Lies and Photo of White Lies by Steve Gullick
Words by HQ