He sits in the middle of three seats. He huffs and puffs in and out of that seat not unlike the get away driver in Snatch. A lot of creaking and groaning and shaking and wobbling. And that is before he stands up. I feel sorry for the guy in the aisle seat – since I have woken up there have been two slow launches from the middle and equally dramatic returns. I was asleep only ten minutes ago.
The first flight in a 380. I missed the inaugural commercial flight of a 380 from Singapore to Sydney by 24 hours when Singapore Airlines introduced this monster to the region and it has taken three years or so before I could taste it. I am in 56A which is apropos nothing except I can look along the wing – and discover I cannot see the wingtip. Under the weight of engines, and its own weight, it sags out of sight. As the nose wheel lifts and we drag off a wet Sydney runway I watch the wingtip reappear as the wings take up 400 tonnes of support. Remarkable really.
But the test for me is not whether the wings stay on and do what they are supposed to do (we fly under a number of presuppositions) but whether there has been a civilised and considerate approach to leg room. They could have jammed more seats in here but this cattle class arrangement allows me to stretch out fully without the seat in front of me getting in the way. That may well be the secret to a decent sleep (though pulling the movie all nighter the previous evening sure did help too). But there is plenty of leg room, and plenty of cuddle room as well – enough of the latter to allow Abdullah the extra space he needs without me waking up to discover a bewhiskered Arab face asleep on my shoulder and his drool soaking my arm.
Actually I don’t mind Abdullah. He helps me in a little bit of cultural re-immersion. I have no idea what the Sudanese feel about personal space but my experience of the Arab world tells me I will find two extremes – a cultured polite respect or a boorish coarse bluster that crashes into you and is perpetually pushing its way in front. Abdullah clearly belongs to the latter group and I make a conscious effort to roll with the punches. In the meantime the airline news bar scrolls the following message “South Sudan clashes kill scores”. I hope that does not invite any of my management from changing plans. Clashes in New York kill scores each day too but that never stops anyone from flying in there. I wonder if Abdullah wants to come to Sudan with me. In a tight spot I could hide behind him, with some room to spare.
The screen tells me we are 18 minutes out. A camera in the tail shows the lights of the coast drifting below us – it is still five o’clock in the morning here so peering out the window only reveals the reflected lights of our cabin and a shadow where your own face might be. It’s midday in Sydney and I walk through in my mind where everyone will be and what they might be up to. Then Abdullah (or someone in the vicinity) farts and my mind is taken somewhere else (horrible and retributive) for a moment. Leg one complete.
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