There are only 12 seats worth taking in any budget aircraft. The exit seats. Not necessarily because in the event of a disaster they provide the quickest escape route. The real reason is the extra leg space. These 12 seats are the only places where a self conscious budget traveller can stretch his weary legs out and drink in peace. But that vision of heaven becomes as relevant as Obama’s promise to smoothen out the American economy as soon as a kid plops down in the seat next to you. Bye bye drinks.
The next best option is to power up your phone and start listening to music. In today’s world of sharply delineated tastes in music, even that’s not an easy task. Used to be there was a time when listening to Madonna wouldn’t get you branded as a bisexual. Nowadays, there are categories of music and categories of people who listen to it. Akon or 2pac is cool, Linkin Park and Underoath are God level and Adele and Enya are romantic. Guys who listen to Adele are branded gay, girls who dig Underoath are branded tomboys, and anyone who follows Justin Bieber is labelled ‘moron’ on the Binet scale. With all this going around in the musical circles, you have to be very wary of what playlist you are caught dead listening to. I personally have multiple lists, suited for different occasions. None of them feature Adele.
As I have stated elsewhere in my columns, having kids sit next to you on flights can be a source of endless nuisance. They are yet to fully master the nuances of social etiquette, so they can be a huge pain in the ass when they have a mind to. Beguilingly enough, the one sitting next to me in Singapore’s own Tiger Airways flight from Singapore to Trivandrum had an almost placid demeanour. He was the picture of integrity, except for his overwhelming urge to please everyone, do the right thing and save the world. God, I hate boy scouts.
Soon as we were seated and buckled in, the air hostess came to our seats, leaned over and whispered conspiratorially to me. “Sir, are you aware that you are sitting next to the emergency exit? ”. “Yes”, I whispered back. “Good. In the event of an emergency landing, will you be willing to help people exit the aircraft?” “Yes”, the kid whispered. “Excellent!” beamed the air hostess. “Now remember, after the emergency landing lights go off and the plane comes to a standstill, please take hold of the red handle, push the door upwards and pull it towards you.” “ Hold, push, pull. Can you do that?” the kid whispered to me. I didn’t understand a couple of things. So I proceeded to ask for clarifications. “Why are we whispering?” I asked the air hostess. “And what the hell do you mean by that question?” I asked the kid.
“Sir!” whispered the shocked air hostess. “ the language. He’s just a child!” I was suitably chastised. “Hold, push, pull. Yeah I can do that” I whispered in a conciliatory tone. “But then, what do I do with the door?” “ You can hand it to me when you exit the aircraft, sir” , she whispered. I was not altogether sure if she was serious.
Anyway, the rest of the flight was relatively calm. I say relatively, because the kid started getting on my nerves with his unbearable urge to help out. He interrupted my music several times to repeatedly ask me if I was comfortable sitting next to the emergency exit and if I wanted to switch places with him. He requested the air hostess several times to clarify how best to disengage the door in the event of an emergency landing. He drank water like a fish and kept going to the loo every twenty minutes. Which wouldn’t have bothered me much except for the fact that every time he got up, he took time out to remind me that in his absence, I was the sole person responsible for the safety of the rest of the passengers. And every time he got back to his seat, he would give the red handle a reassuring tug, just to see if I had tampered with it in his absence. He even asked me if I was strong enough to dismantle the door. I had half a mind to take hold of the red handle, push the door upwards, pull it towards me and bash the kid with it.
Matters came to a head when we landed at the airport. I do not exactly remember what triggered him, letting off the devil inside the Boy Scout. Maybe it was the landing lights going off. Maybe it was the voice of the captain over the intercom, wishing us all a pleasant stay at Trivandrum. Maybe it was sheer desperation at not having had the chance to be a hero. Whatever be the reason, the kid lost it right at the end. At the very exact moment the air hostess turned to smile at him, he jumped up from his seat, leapt over me and caught hold of the red handle. I vaguely remember him calling out “ Machaaaannn….” . He pushed the door upwards, unhinging it. And then promptly lost control, dropping the 15 kg plastic and aluminium crash door on my lap.
I am afraid I may have to start including Adele in my playlist from now on.