Travel — December 3, 2012 at 13:29

The Joys of Air Travel

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Air travel. Many people dread it. I guess it takes a special breed of masochist to enjoy being canned at 30,000 feet with a bunch of mammals, all of varied hygiene levels. Throw into the mix a healthy dose of turbulence, flatulence, and crew insolence, and you have yourself an adventure, but not the kind that you share on Facebook via photos.

I actually happen to be sitting on a rather clunky MD-80, somewhere over Illinois, on my way to Texas, writing this. Whatever prompted me to do it right now? Mostly spare time and lack of entertainment (the in-flight Wi-Fi costs $9, and I am too cheap…), but also the look on the grandmotherly flight attendant who just scolded a fellow passenger for using his MP3 player to enjoy some serenity, as opposed to listening to the out-of-control teenage toddler incessantly blabbing about the unfairness of not having the same amount of space as on the previous flight. Anyways. We are apparently somewhere between a rock and a series of hard places, and it all may yet come crashing to the ground.

Wow, I am actually quite surprised at my writing here. Clearly, the cabin has been decompressing slowly and hypoxia has taken over, because believe you me, I can’t write worth a shit.

Alas…

The Joys of Air Travel

The Joys of Air Travel

Part 1: Reservations

This is one of the biggest headaches of the bunch. You have already gone through the horrific task of consulting your significant other regarding where the hell you are going to go, and now it is time to pay for the tickets. The experiences are multiple: deficient websites not allowing transactions to be completed, flights no longer available at those sexy advertised prices, shitty connecting options at airports seemingly purpose-built so far out of town as to totally destroy the economic viability of the trip, and, of course, having to actually choose an airline based on glossy adverts which have just about nothing to do with the in-flight conditions.

Biman airplane on the tarmac of the Rangoon International Airport

An Airbus belonging to Biman Bangladesh Airlines on the tarmac of Rangoon International Airport, in Myanmar (Burma)

In my 120+ flights that I have taken in the past decade or so, I have seen websites so poorly designed that I get occasional seizures brought upon by the sheer stupidity of the web developer. Biman Bangladesh, Royal Nepal Airlines, and Bhutan’s Druk Air, for the longest time, had completely dysfunctional websites where you couldn’t book shit. You could read the company statement of blah blah blah, and about how the corporate vision reflects the country’s continual who gives a shit…  You’d think the steps are easy: itinerary, book, pay, fuckoff. That simple. Here I am, trying to hand over a shitload of cash, but nope, we aren’t gonna take it.

Having cranked majority of my travel around Asia, I do take a lot of flights with Air Asia. Their sexy, streamlined, “easier than Essex” website is a breeze. Anyone who visits www.airasia.com will quickly agree. The only drawback is that when booking with Air Asia, which is a low cost carrier, there are all kinds of extra fees to be paid for just about everything. Checked luggage, snacks, beverages, preferred seats – they all dent your wallet. I guess it is not that unusual these days, as Ryanair, EasyJet, and just about every other budget carrier does that… Add to this the fact that these carriers often take you to slightly-off-the-beaten-path airports with poorer land links, and usually at odd hours, your total costs might actually be near, if not higher than if you flew with a “big”, IATA affiliated carrier.

Songshan Airport in Taipei

Songshan Airport in Taipei

Flight information board in Denpasar, Bali.

Flight information board in Denpasar, Bali.

 

Naturally, those “big” boys are not necessarily better. They certainly carry themselves like they own the sky, but some of them are only marginally better, while others completely fail to provide anything resembling a service. But more about that later.

But as long as I touched on the topic of hidden charges, here is a story: I showed up for a flight with Air Asia from Bangkok to Taipei. I went a little bit stupid and bought some useless shit (like a 12kg djembe!) which brought my luggage to a whopping 30-something kg. Even though the flight ticket itself was peanuts, the luggage charges pretty much doubled it and not having much choice I paid and boarded the flight, bitching under my breath that I will steal as many life vests as possible to get my revenge. A few days after arrival I found out from a friend of mine that he flew with KLM Asia, and while his ticket was a bit more expensive, he spent an extra 100 USD which upgraded him to Business Class, bringing his luggage allowance to 30-something kilos ANYWAY, and he had a better seat, better meal, and a better mood. GODDAMNYOUMARTYN!!!

Here is a video from a “fun” misadventure I had with India’s SpiceJet who fucked things up in the most entertaining of ways…

 

Air China 777 in Beijing

Air China 777 in Beijing

Another time, checking in for a flight from Vancouver to Guangzhou with China Southern Airlines, I was informed that my luggage was 3kg over the free allowance. “Fine”, I said, “How much do I pay?”. The Buddha-faced checkin guy told me that there is a single charge of $145! Whether you are 1kg over or 10kg over, it is all one charge. THAT was a bit of a surprise… I tried to negotiate, but he was being a hardass. “Why should I let you get away with it, it is not fair to other passengers…” to which I tried to reply something about fairness of paying nearly $50 per kilogram, while I weigh 65kg and will most likely be seated next to a 150kg pig who does not pay extra for being a 150kg pig. In the end I managed to take some crap out, popped the top of my backpack off and took it with me as carry-on. But this really illustrates the bullshit procedure: everyone is allowed 20 or 23 or 25kg, but it doesn’t matter how much you weigh… I think a fair system should account for passenger weight. Say, you are allowed 100kg, so if you weigh 80, you can bring 20 worth of luggage. No one will listen…

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Check-in

You arrive at the airport. You are in a hurry, because the rickshaw took you for a 2 hour tour of Ahmedabad before delivering you to the airport. This happens a million times so here is an idea: Show up early! The usual request is 1 to 1.5 hours for domestic flights (this sometimes varies between something ridiculously short like 45 minutes in China and 2 hours in India), and between 2 and 3 hours for international departures. But gauge your distance from the airport! A few weeks ago I have met a very frustrated dumbass who had about an hour before her flight, but who completely failed to account for the fact that she was 120km from the airport… She kept on asking the bus driver if it was possible to make it on time! I don’t think the digits in the “34F” on her ticket were so much the seat number, as an indicator of her IQ…

When shit goes wrong...

When shit goes wrong.

(Related to the topic of not missing your flight: When romping about, like, say, the Monkeetime expedition to Mongolia or Indonesia, I prefer to do it in a specific pattern. I usually start by arriving in the capital city (usually it is the capital as it has the best international connections), spend minimum time, only enough to make arrangements to get the hell out, go see the countryside, and then return 2 or 3 days before the flight out. Why? Because shit loves to go wrong! The more difficult the route or the more treacherous the way, the bigger the buffer. This way, if it turns out that the transmission exploded (as it does) and we lost 2 days, nobody is sweating, because we all know we will make it back in a good timeframe. The final days can be easily occupied on exploring the capital, either snooping through the inevitable museums, or vegging out at McDonald’s. Whatever. As long as you are there and you are not blowing your plans by missing a thousand-dollar flight.)

Speaking of wasting your money, at least we are past the era of “flight confirmation”. Countless travellers have been turned away because they failed to call in and confirm that they intend to fly. “I sez, pardon!?” I thought I made it fucking clear that I intend to fly when I handed over that $300! Instead of me having to call to “reconfirm”, the airlines should call me to ask if it is ok to turn a bit extra profit by double-booking my seat. Oh, wait, they already do that, only minus the phone call!

I sure love my window seats!

I sure love my window seats!

Earlier, I mentioned IQs and seats… If you haven’t reserved a seat while booking, then check-in would be the time. You have to be a complete moron to think that the flight will be empty, and you are bound to have some sort of seat preference. I, for one, love the window seat. Yes, I do realize that there is not much to see once in or above the clouds, but whatever it is, it is bound to be better than being sandwiched between two chunky Bavarian ladies while staring at the bald spot in front of you, all to the sound of the screaming toddlers apparently on their way to a colicky baby conference. I take the window seat because it plays well with my ADHD (joke, I don’t have ADHD, just an unwillingness to put up with boring shit that you tolerate), and also allows me to sleep uninterrupted. You see, my urinary bladder is the size of Belgium, and I can happily sit there for many hours without having to relieve myself. If you sit in the aisle seat, you are bound to be getting up every 15 minutes, especially on the 747 where you are trapping not one but two separate bladders, and usually on a long-haul flight. Bad idea.

I love my window seats. I am all about them. There is a very good reason for it, and this short video clip should make it very clear what that reason is.

So… I take the window seat. But that’s me. I am travel size. My knees seldom touch the seat in front of me. You, on the other hand, might not be so lucky. This is where the aisle seat might come in handy, as you could stretch out a bit. I also like my seat at the back of the airplane, for two reasons: one is the fact that I don’t want to be in the middle of the deck with that big fat wing obstructing my view (and therefore my camera’s view), and since I hardly ever can afford the posh first/business class spots at the front, the back it is! The second reason is more laughable, but whatever… There is a documented higher crash survivability at the back, and while you might giggle, this does actually come to mind when flying on shitty carriers like Indonesia’s Lion Air or North Korea’s Air Koryo. Both these airlines are in regular trouble with various international air safety authorities, so back of the wagon it is!

Window seats for me, because I want to see the world.

Window seats for me, because I want to see the world.

High above Tibet.

High above Tibet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Island

Easter Island

Alaskan glacier.

Alaskan glacier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misty Manchuria

Misty Manchuria

Low over Sao Paulo, Brazil

Low over Sao Paulo, Brazil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seat selection is easy with Air Canada, Air Asia, and so on… Sometimes it is a mission and a half. Recently I had a series of flights with Air India, and I requested window seats by directly contacting the airline office. I got this reply:

                              Dear Sir
                              Here are your confirmed seats:
                              11C
                              23B
                              17D
                              22A

                              Sincerely
                              Umesh

I don’t know how long Umesh has worked at the Air India office, but on the Airbus 321 (which was the craft for all these hops) only A and F are window seats. So I wrote back to Umesh:

                              Dear Umesh

                              You sent me a message about my seating arrangements, but I am afraid only one

                              of the assigned seats is a window seat. Could you please give me all window seats?

                              Many thanks

                              Emil Kaminski

To which he responded:

                              done

                              16B
                              22D
                              20B
                              23C

Obviously Umesh has problems with something there… I assumed that the plane must be loaded to the tits already and there are no window seats available, but then, 24 hours before the first flight, I did the online check-in, and sure enough, there were heaps o window seats available. Fucking idiot.  I did my own seat assigning, but what the fuck was the point of even talking to this idiot?  Argh…

Two months later I was flying with Air India again (the last two of the 4 flights), and had some major issues with the online check-in, which necessitated a visit to the local Air India office. I was assigned seat 22F for both sectors.  The first one was fine (AMAZING views of the Himalaya..) but by the time I was getting onto the second flight, I was relegated to 20B, which, on the Airbus A321 is the worst possible location (outdone only by being assigned to the lavatory or the roof).  It, and 20E are the two seats just ahead of the aft wing emergency exits, which means that instead of getting squashed by the people in A and C (or D and F), you have not even the faintest hope of seeing a window, as it has been replaced by the emergency door, and has only a tiny, 3 inch “visor” which gives you a view of fuck all, not to mention the neck cramp if you are actually trying to sneak a peek.  Additionally, these seats do not recline, as that would obstruct the emergency exit.  Beware!  (Speaking of non-reclining seats, the ones at the very back of the 319, 320, 321, and the 737 also do not recline, making for a crappy trip if it is longer than an hour and you were hoping to get some sleep.

Even when you get your desired “window seat” you never know if the window is actually useable as it may be blanked out with an interior panel (for whatever reason) or, on the outside, obstructed by the engine itself, as is the case with the DC-9 and the derivatives (MD-80, 85, 90, 95).

I do have some silly stories about weaselling for seats on full planes though…  One time, on a flight from Thailand to Taiwan, I purposely arrived very late at the Don Muang airport in Bangkok.  Upon check-in, the clerk informed me that my request for a window seat could not be granted as all the window seats had already been assigned…  I proceeded to act very stressed out as “my raging fear of flight and claustrophobia surely will result in copious amount of vomit brought upon by the certain stress-induced air sickness”.  Miraculously, the guy started tapping at his keyboard, and found one more seat.  Because, you know, there always is one ore seat. This one just happened to be 1A, waaaay up there in the disaster-vulnerable front of the airplane, also known as “First Class”.  I celebrated for the entire duration of the flight.

Karma, being a bitch that she is, soon enough exacted her revenge.  On a flight from Seattle to Taipei, I decided to go for the First Class again.   Not wanting to do the “vomit” gamble again,  I showed up at the airport with a proper, hospital-issue knee brace that I obtained from a previously-crippled friend.  Th embrace was set in the ‘straight’ position, thus nearly guaranteeing that I would not be able to fit in the standard 32-inch pitch of economy class, thus sending me to the heavenly comforts of First or Business.  The plan was perfect. I gimped my way to the counter, put on the best display ever (I even dropped my passport on the floor and spent a good minute trying to pick it up), only to walk away with a boarding pass for 38D !!!  What the shit!?!?!  Thirty eight!?!?!  That doesn’t sound like first class!  And the seats better be wide, because D doesn’t sound like anything near a window!

I spent next 16 hours sitting next to some noodle-slurping farty lardass, facing a bulkhead, with my left leg firmly planted in the aisle, but my head nowhere near my beloved window. Fail.

Part 3: The Rubber Glove

Moving on…  You got tired of walking about the terminal building, staring at the contents of the multitude of duty free shops which you cannot afford (though they are mostly useless shit like perfume and cigarettes), and you decided to make a move to the airside.  And that’s where you get the next adventure of your life: the security check.  If it seemed that before September 11th all the security screeners were carefully selected for their IQs matching their shoe size, but were otherwise placid creatures, then AFTER Osama bin Laden’s “airshow” everyone had been replaced with their still-retarded but fiercely patriotic cousins who were apparently raised in the unquestioning paranoia of North Korea.  Obviously, they have to screen for weapons and explosives, as there are plenty of morons willing to kill themselves and everyone else for a variety of reasons, religious and otherwise…  But confiscating my nail clippers when first class passengers have proper metal butter knifes does not impress me!  Neither does the unbelievable attention that my belt buckle gets as it triggers some sort of special alarm at every metal detector in the world.  I also get pissed off every time the x-ray monkey ask me to remove my laptop, only to start slamming it around in the tray. I do enjoy the crotch pat though…

The security people are a special breed of idiots but with a wide range of habits and convictions.  In China, a country that has very low risk of terrorism (ok, there has been some crap, but it is rare and insignificant), they can go a bit nuts on the patdowns and confiscations, while letting everyone hold on to their lighters and matches.  I guess, China wouldn’t be China without the smokers lining up for the lavatories at the back of the 747…  Oddly enough, while the Chinese “security trolls” make everyone throw away their water bottles, I have seen them allow nail clippers and even swiss-army knives!  Then you have Indonesia…  A country constantly producing terror content for newspapers worldwide, seemed completely untroubled by completely porous security lines at the Labuan Bajo airport during our visit in 2008.  Random people walking on the tarmac, unmanned metal detectors screaming for help,  and vendors selling things to passengers through open terminal building windows… See this clip…

Part 4: The Flight

You’ve survived the heavy petting of the security zone, and now you are making your way to the airplane.  Some more stores full of shit you don’t need, random people sleeping in random places and in random configurations, and, if you are in China or Indonesia, random smokers puffing away next to “no smoking!” signs.  If you are lucky enough, your flight is not delayed by 4 hours, and you can actually make your way to the gate, get on, and get going.  Some are not so lucky.  I am sure you have heard of people delayed for days, camping out at various airports around the world.  Sometimes it is the weather, which is completely legitimate, and sometimes it is caused by shitty planning.  I have waited for 10 hours once at the Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu for a flight to Hongkong, and aside of everyone dying of starvation (until they threw some soggy sandwiches at us after 5 hours), all the HK plans took a bullet for the day… I just assume the worst and plan accordingly…  Many airports have free wireless (Calgary, Vancouver, Hongkong, Bangkok, Singapore) so you can always occupy yourself with that. Otherwise, bring books. Or a pillow.

Anyways.  You waited, then the time arrived to get on the plane.  Let’s celebrate!

Some immediately go after the free booze. That is on the flights that have free booze, and those are, thankfully, increasingly scarce.  My flight to Japan in 2011 was next to a retarded Brit who decided to further damage his brain by drinking copious amounts of gin or whatever, until he became a total prick to the flight attendants.  Not cool.  Another time, I ended up at a party at the back of a 777, everyone walking about with their drinks, chatting, having a good time… Except for one Scandinavian burnout who decided to medicate himself with a large bottle of rye, and soon enough was a loud, babbling mess telling everyone how many hookers he is going to bang as soon as he lands… Hopeless…

I don’t entertain myself with booze, rather, I have books, magazines, my lappy, and a camera.  Trying to catch some neat aerial views of whichever city I am flying out of, I almost universally get into some sort of conflict with the flight attendants who are convinced that my video cam will end up crashing the plane.  They demand that I turn it off, which i pretend to do, they walk away, and I continue with my terrorist act of filming.  The idea of a plane crashing because of a camera is just so fucking stupid.  Wouldn’t Al Quaeda just be loading people with cameras on board, instead of spending money n expensive things like Semtex or Stinger missiles?

Anywho.

I do find it astonishing though that a large proportion of people seems completely disinterested in what is going on outside the plane.  A few years ago I have flown in a Boeing 717 over the Ayers Rock in Australia and not even one person was looking out the window.  More astonishingly, on that hugely delayed Nepal-Hongkong flight, we had a spectacular view of Mt. Everest, and, once again, no one seemed to notice.  I don’t get it.  Even those dreaded redeye flights provide some good entertainment as you get to see lightning, rare-but-possible “shooting stars” and even the northern lights.  But I guess gin is plenty good entertainment…

While all this great stuff is happening on the outside, the inside is a slightly different story.  First, there are the kids.  It is a well-known element of Murphy’s Law that no matter which seat you are assigned to, there will be a fussy baby within 5 seats of you, and if the flight includes a screaming toddler, he or she will be conveniently placed in the seat immediately behind yours, thus providing the soothing back stimulation of the little feet tapping away on your seat back.  While noise can be handled with some strategic planning (earplugs packed somewhere near the top of your carry-on luggage, or better yet, in your pocket), the out-of-control toddler who is sprinkling everyone and everything with strawberry yogurt mixed with a good dose of shrieks can only be handled by the parent, which usually is already at the end of their own rope and blissfully drowned in their -eenth rye and coke.

Sometimes it isn’t so much what is happening on YOUR flight, as much as what has happened on the PREVIOUS flight. Flying with Shenzhen Airlines a while ago I discovered, some 40 minutes into the flight, that a passenger on the previous flight had lost control of their bladder and I was cluelessly wallowing in their urine.  Needless to say, when the soggy feeling finally arrived at my butt’s nerve receptors, I was less than delighted and threw a tantrum of my own.  I understand that they can’t actually check the moisture levels of each seat between all flights, but it is very difficult to stay placid after having your ass covered in someone else’s piss, especially when no names or safety words were exchanged.  This whole fun episode can be viewed here.

Depending on where you are going and how much time you will spend in the air, there is a range of things you can do with yourself to help pass the time.  In-flight movies, the good old staple of air transport, are a hit-and-miss affair and lately I have been viewing disgustingly boring pieces that, realistically, can only be viewed by captive audiences such as prison inmates, alcohol-paralysed fratboys, and passengers on B-grade airlines that couldn’t afford the better stuff.  There still are degrees of “horrible”, as I found out while flying with Air Koryo to Pyongyang where the in-flight entertainment consisted of some clips of a soldier singing about his motherland, and some shots of a cow – though still better than Jersey Shore.

Food and beverage service, normally the easiest target of complaints, has been providing a mixed experience for me, and usually a surprise.  Some flag-carrier airlines such as Air China and Air India can sometimes outdo themselves in the area of disappointment with meat-filled pastries that taste like 7-Eleven floor sweepings or fruit juices so awkwardly flavoured as to make your dog’s choice of lapping up coolant/antifreeze seem like a sensible idea.  Then, on the other hand, Air Asia’s “food-for-purchase” items can be surprisingly satisfying.  Biman Bangladesh Airlines, while famously lacking in the area of general customer service, seems to have great tasting regional dishes, as does LAN Chile and Royal Thai Airways.  The vast majority of airline companies seem to go with the minimum-effort “chicken-or-beef” choice making it difficult to distinguish one flight from the other.  It doesn’t matter if it is chicken or beef, if half of it will end up on your shirt, and I had a string of unpleasant incidents until I learned to use the airline blanket to compensate for my apparent inability to feed myself.  However, it is a much more distressing experience when the food on your shirt came from the passenger next to you, but, luckily, I have never had the privilege of siting next to a puker.

Watching movies for 12 hours while munching on lamb chops or hotdogs will inevitably bring you in contact with the aircraft lavatory.  Depending on your timing and skill, this can be a non-event, or a horrific experience.  While Cathay Pacific, Taiwan’s China Airlines, and Royal Thai seem to take a lot of pride in their ability to keep things clean, Biman Bangladesh has so far outdone themselves in providing a consistently high level of disappointment.  Once, while flying from Rangoon to Dhaka on an aging Airbus 310, I noticed that the toilet door was broken and could not be properly closed/locked, and once inside I spotted the sign “PUSH HERE FOR FLUSHING” written with a permanent marker in a shaky manner, together with a very un-straight arrow pointing to the flush button.  To add to the experience, someone had decided to use the toilet in the “Asian” fashion, by standing then squatting on the seat.  While Asia usually is on the theoretically more hygienic “squat toilet” system, and even has some hybrid toilets (which allow both conventional use as well as squatting) popping up in all kinds of places, the Biman toilet was neither of the squat nor hybrid variety.  Not having been cleaned at all for a long period of time, the floor was covered in urine which then was generously transferred onto the seat.  At that point, the conventional use was out of the question, but trying to squat on it while the airliner was going through its bumpy paces somewhere over the jungle was not optimal.  Every flight, an adventure!

Part 5: The Transfer

Landing, as well as the ride to the terminal building, while seemingly routine, provide ample opportunity to people watch and spot the various cultural differences.  If you live in the West, you expect to see everyone “…seated until the aircraft comes to a complete stop and the captain switches the seatbelt sign”.  Not so in China.  Just about every flight I had taken in the People’s Republic had people unbuckling their seat belts before the plane properly attached itself to the runway, and by the time the aircraft was pulling into a gate, at least half of the passengers were milling about, pulling their luggage from the overhead bins, and trying to push forward to the exit.  The great rush for the door is also present in Canada and the US as people claim that they do not want to spend any more time in the flatulence-filled cabin than necessary.  Funny enough, as I type this, the gentleman sitting next to me has let out a big and loud one…

Finding your way through to the other gate at your transfer airport can also be an adventure. Some airports such as Singapore’s Changi, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Hongkong, or Beijing Capital have very easy to navigate and clearly labeled passages, making it a breeze for even the most jet lagged and impaired of passengers.  On the other hand, some airports are notorious for poor signage and generally crappy layouts.  In my experience, so far the worst of the lot has been Bangladesh’s Zia International Airport in Dhaka.  Granted, my last visit there was in 2005, but while not really a maze, the place was not labelled, I could not find transfer desks or reliable information boards anywhere, and the waiting area looked like a couch cemetery: seemingly every tattered, cat-scratched, stained couch from the 1970’s had made its way there.  To make things worse the toilets were neither equipped with toilet paper nor the omnipresent “bum hoses” that one sees in South and South-East Asia. Instead, I found a tea kettle somewhere behind the toilet and had to use that to wash up. Love it…

One time, while transferring at Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport, the brilliant Chinese security staff decided to send us through customs where we were asked for visas (“Hi!  We are transferring, not coming to your country!!! Why do you ask us such things!?”) but better yet, even though we just came off a flight, they made us throw out our water WHICH WE OBTAINED WHILE INSIDE THE SECURITY ZONE.  On the upside, a man in front of me got through with his lighter as he was happily puffing away by the gate.

Another time, transferring at the new Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, I was sent through a security screening which was equipped with only one x-ray scanner, and 2 metal detectors… All of the transfer passengers had to pass through this gate, meaning a 20-30 minute wait, while the place was crawling with clueless security guards and cops.

Depending on the time you are going to spend at the transfer airport, you may have a total horror of an adventure, or a pleasant stay.  In Singapore, if your stay is more than 5 hours, you may partake in a complimentary bus tour of the city.  This is a brilliant way to kill some time.  In Dhaka, as I mentioned earlier, you can test out a huge variety of couches and try washing up with a kettle.  For plane-spotters, the best airport that I have seen is Australia’s Sydney airport, as the waiting areas by the gates offer huge and close views of the entire runway, and looking at all the action can be a nice way to kill some time. Once enough time has passed, you will inevitably be interested in some food.  This, however, will disappoint, as just about every airport in the world has adopted the “haha, fuck you” pricing policy, where they grossly overcharge for everything knowing that they ave you by the ‘short and curlys’…

There are a few fair-price airports around the world though, one of them being the one in Calgary, where prices are just about the same as in the city.  In Bangkok, on the other hand, you are well advised to bring a sandwich and a soda with you.

If you weren’t too knackered to get lost at the airport and/or slept through your boarding time, you eventually make it to your next flight, and get going with your journey…

Part 6: The Arrival

After more adventures with screaming kids, fatties spilling over the armrests into your urine-soaked seat, smokers trashing the lavatory, you arrive at your final destination.  Oh, joy!

But wait… There is that uniformed guy asking about a visa!  One last chance to get screwed…  Bengali embassies charged $30 dollars for a two week tourist visa, but on arrival the charge went to anything between $60 and $100…  In Nepal, your options are a $30 one-month visa or a $90 3-month visa – the authorities know damn well that most visitors need about 2 months, so they will roll over and buy the $90 one after the government did away with the 60 day visa.  In other places you will simply get turned away because the customs nazi doesn’t like the look on your face, or because you didn’t provide an on-going ticket – they never heard of overland travel…

Part 7: “Dude, where is my fucking luggage???”

After 6 or 12 or even 38 hours you get stamped into your final destination, walk to the luggage carousel, and wait. And wait. And wait. You see people collecting their luggage, the hall slowly empties, and then, slowly, that feeling starts creeping in… That “I paid $145 in overweight fees ad yet you still fucked me over some more and lost my luggage” feeling…

This has not (yet) happened to me, but as I am finishing this story I sit on an Air India flight to Kathmandu and knowing that the connection was very tight in New Delhi, it will not be that much of a surprise if finally the lost-luggage roulette caught up with me…  A friend of mine lost ALL his junk on a flight to Taiwan a few years ago.  Everything. Clothes. Shoes. Toiletries.  CD’s (this was more than just a few years back…) .  Seeing that all my material possessions are in that backpack of mine, I would be ruined.  Sometimes these things just happen, but very often, especially at “poverty airports” the luggage simply gets stolen.  Derek’s bag got broken into and items removed in Jakarta.  So far, I only had a damaged bag, but no theft and no lost luggage.  Lets see if that changes…  Respectable airlines will deliver the luggage when found, usually on the very next flight.  Less respectable ones probably have a garage sale or staff members simply divide the loot between themselves.  I guess this is the risk you take when you fly…

Part 8

Final thoughts and some advice

If you are interested in having an easy flight, come up with a system that works for you.  The following will seem obvious to some, but I am writing to those who haven’t done that much traveling yet and would like to get some pointers.  Take what you want, leave others.  This is the system that works for me.

Book your flights well in advance to get good prices.  Don’t be a courier for other people, no matter how much they promise to reward you.

If last minute, try to find a bucket shop that might have connections with low cost special fares.

Book so you arrive early rather than late, and avoid the taxi rape. Research transport options before you leave, dig up other travellers advice online.

Sort out your visas, and if doing visa on arrival, make sure you have the necessary currency and possibly passport photos.

Even though we are supposedly in a “paperless” world, do print out your ticket/itinerary because of the less-than-up-to-date paperwork monkeys at the other end demanding tickets/proof of exit arrangements.

Don’t pack valuables in the checked luggage, because it may all disappear.

Place fragile items deep inside the pack, not near the outside (especially applicable to backpacks).

Tie up loose straps, consider wrapping service or a big plastic bag.

If problems, stay “cute-n-cuddly” during check-in, they will help you if you are nice. Yelling feels good, but it seldom helps.

Don’t be late at the gate: go through security early.  Enjoy the patdown, this might be all the action you’ll get for a long time.  Unless you are couriering drugs. There will be all kinds of action at the Jakarta prison…  You probably like that. Sicko.

If fussy about seats, take care of it well in advance, or show up extra early at the airport.

Wear comfy clothes, and bring an extra layer for long haul flights as it may get a bit chilly.

Prepare for the climate on the other end: if going from Bangkok to Siberia, pack your warm layers in an easily accessible spot, so you can immediately change upon arrival.

Bring earplugs.  Don’t bring kids. Leave them at the airport – you may pick them up later.

Many bring neck pillows, but consider bringing a nice, big fluffy pillow for those long hauls.

Stay sober in flight as you need to be sharp when you arrive (customs people don’t like drunkards, while taxi drivers LOVE them).

Drink loads of water so you don’t dehydrate. Ask flight attendants for top-ups.  Wine is not a way to hydrate.

If you are a smoker, the smoking area is usually on the left wing.

Bring entertainment: books/Kindle, laptop, iPad, iPod, iPhone, Sudoku.  Don’t bring hashish or MDMA.

Make a friend.  Chat with the traveler next to you, you might get all kinds of interesting info about your destination. Also, might get the Mile High Club badge. If not, you can go for the Mile High Club – Solo Endorsement, but do use the lavatory, because it freaks out the grannies. Unless you like that.  Sicko.

Don’t rush when getting off the plane: you’d be amazed with the number of passports and cameras people leave behind.

Only change a minimum amount of cash at the airport as the exchange rates are usually not very good. There are exceptions (Bangkok), so ask around before you leave.

If you rely on ATMs, it is nasty to show up only to find out your card doesn’t work.  Consider carrying 2 ATM cards (from two separate banks) and perhaps 2 or 3 credit cards.

Bury your cash, and only have enough in your pocket to cover taxis/meals/pingpong show. Out of sight = out of mind.

In dodgy countries, negotiate taxi price before you get in.  Share a ride with your Mile High Club friend.  Because of jet lag, it is a good idea to pre-arrange some accommodation so you don’t get taken advantage of.  Unless you like that. Sicko.

Enjoy your flight, and have a kick-ass trip!

4 Comments

  1. Totally agree with all of it. Flying isn’t the worst thing if you assume the role of a prisoner, like really embrace it.

  2. When both of you got to Texas did you receive the complimentary grope down by TSA agents who have a fetish for children’s testicles, old peoples colostomy bags and expensive high end electronics? 😉

  3. Great blog Emil!

  4. Nice en3…