I’m not going to dwell on how I am forced to empty my pockets and laptop bag, remove my belt, shoes, watch, cap, necklace and bracelet, and throw away anything in bottles, or how security lacked a sense of humor when I mentioned showing him my ‘privates’. But now I know why my old mum used to insist on us wearing clean underwear … she could see the future of air travel.
Our tickets take us to a bulkhead seat that I could barely push back, so my knees are jammed under my chin. The lady on the seat in front is wearing a breathing mask. It’s a zoo.
This is not a direct flight from Sint Maarten to Amsterdam, we are making a stop in Curacao to clean the plane and I wonder how they are going to get a backhoe through the small door. Perhaps they’ll make do with a high-pressure hose and a steam cleaner.
The 747 banks hard and climbs away from St. Maarten and it’s way too late to get off.
“This is your captain speaking, you can now remove your seat belt but we suggest you leave it on in case we fall out of the sky so you will know where to find your arse to kiss it goodbye.”
A lady, wearing a uniform that mirrors the colors I see from the airplane window, arrives with a cart full of pain relief. Her lips move. I breathe in and out, swallow, pinch my nostrils and blow down my nose. This starts a coughing fit so I bang the side of my head with the palm of my hand but the pressure in my ears refuses to clear and I’m still deaf. After three attempts the flight attendant resorts to mime and finally I understand she is offering me food and drink. Thirty seconds later and I’m chewing a cardboard sandwich and sipping tepid beer while the attendant tells her colleagues to watch out for the mentally challenged man in N5.
It’s a hard landing. The 747 hits the runway with a good thump and the bottom falls out of the TV monitor over the isle, leaving the circuit boards dangling by their wires for all to see. The overweight guy sitting on my right screams and leaps to his feet but is slammed backwards by his seat belt. Panicked, he reaches over and grabs my hand, which is resting between my knees. I’m glad he doesn't miss!
A ripple of applause salutes our return to earth. The attendant, who brought the drinks cart, reappears, reaches up and stuffs the dangling circuit boards back into the monitor and slams the bottom shut with her fist. She can’t resist giving me a withering ‘you did that to my airplane’ look, so I slap the side of my head and cross my eyes.
My new friend clocks the gesture and drops my hand like a hot potato and, like a big hero, goes back to listening to his iPod as if nothing has happened. The wuss.
The plane taxies to the ramp and stops. Everyone stands up and does their Quasimodo impression for 20 minutes while they open the door. The beer and coffee have made me desperate for the bathroom but no one can move so I have to sit on it.
And I’ve got gas.
Eventually it’s our turn to shuffle off the plane and receive the “thank you for flying with us today,” blessing at the door. I’ve saved a special ‘face’ for the cart lady but she’s not there so give it instead to the wuss who grabbed my hand.
The first part of our journey from St. Maarten to England via Curacao and Amsterdam is over and leg one hasn’t been bad. Now all I have to do is get to a bathroom and then relax for a couple of hours before taking off my clothes and getting back on the plane.
I dump my bags with my wife and head for the gents.
Ah, the relief … I look down when I realize the pipe has come off the bottom of the urinal and my feet are getting wet.