Monday, 30 January 2012

The Longest Flight Home

Sometimes all you want is your own bed in your own house, especially towards the end of a hurried and stressful business trip. I certainly felt like that as I sat in a dull lounge at Los Angeles airport waiting for them to announce the flight back to London and home.

This trip had come fast after a previous one to Sao Paulo and it had not been long ago that I had been insane enough to fly from London to Australia for a day meeting then back. My body did not know where it was and my stomach didn’t know what it wanted. Certainly not the pretzels I was absently chewing, hastened downwards by a vicious Bloody Mary.

Never mind, I thought as the call finally came, the flight would be long and I would soon be getting the sleep I craved for. To my joy they upgraded both me and a conference colleague at the gate into First Class with its flat bed seats and comfy pyjamas. This is going to be just great I thought as I walked into the dimly lit soothing cabin. I was given a glass of champagne and led to my wide and welcoming armchair.

Now I never have trouble sleeping on aircraft, never. As soon as the plane took off and reached altitude I flattened my seat, collected a few stray pillows and dived under the duvet I had found in the overhead locker. My seat was cosily positioned, on its own, at the front of the plane.

Having announced to the nearest cabin crew that I did not want drinks, dinner or any other kind of service until breakfast I donned my eye shades,slid down the seat and fell into an immediate and beautiful dreamless sleep. What seemed like only a few seconds later a great big soft something crashed on top of me. I thought I was being suffocated by a giant marshmallow until I lifted my shades enough to see that the crew had dropped the rest of the duvets on top of me.

After receiving profuse apologies I drifted off once more and this lasted about ten minutes before I woke feeling a tentative hand pressing gently but persistently on my arm. I must have jerked upright suddenly because reeling back in front of me was a scared looking steward. He was talking but I heard nothing as the engines were roaring and I had taken out my hearing aids to sleep. Just a moment I grumbled as I groped around the seat in a semi stupor searching for them. They had disapeared.

Eventually my errant aids were retrieved by using to biros from where they had lost themselves in the mechanical interior of the seat and I put them on. “Yes” I said? “Tell me sir, will you be dining with us this evening” he asked with a beguiling innocent grin. “No I bloody will not” I grunted as I tried to wrestle back my duvet that had dispersed itself while I had searched for my aids.

I was getting even more tired and emotional but thankfully I managed to drift off again. Then the screeching started. Then it stopped. Then it started again. Was I dreaming? No, too loud for that. What the hell was it? I had forgotten to take my damn hearing aids back out and every time I rolled over the compression had made them screech. Only if you wear such aids do you know how unpleasant and wakeful that sound is.

Over the next hour or so I cat napped. I thought I had been clever getting seat 1A but the reverse was true. On this 747 seat 1A is right next to a big cupboard/hanging wardrobe and this one had a sticky door. Every time anyone wanted something from there they had to yank the door which made a sharp snapping sound. Then they would rummage around like noisy mice!

By this time I was past sleeping. Desperately tired yes, able to sleep? Definitely not. I tried everything. Lying this way, lying that way, on my back, the good old foetal position, but no luck. What really annoyed me was by this time everyone else had eaten their meals and gone to sleep. I was probably the only person awake and the crew had done their amazing disapearing act they always do on night flights.

There was the sound of snoring coming from all over the cabin, especially from the small frail old lady in the seat behind. I became fascinated by her as she had a great snoring action. She was as white as a corpse and her head was thrown back. Rather like the sound of a wave rushing into shore her mouth would open and then, when it could go no further the snore would come belowing out like a great breaker. The vibrations caused her false teeth to rattle around in her mouth. Fascinating stuff if you are that desperate!

How I envied them all. I was more exhausted than the lot of them combined but my brain refused point blank to shut down. In the end I gave up trying and decided to pick a boring old film from the I.F.E. system and see if that would help me sleep. It usually works at home, I thought to myself. I selected ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ as that seemed to describe the scene pretty well.

It did not work. I got into it instead. There I was, a grown man blubbing like a child as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (I think) came together. I must have looked a sad sight as an air hostess, who appeared from nowhere, must have seen me and brought over a cup of tea and a box of Kleenex tissues. Not my biggest alpha male moment and not conducive to sleep either.

By this time the flight was half over and any sleep I had snatched was not the restful type. However all that changed when the guy I was at the conference with woke up to use the wash room. “Can’t sleep”? he asked as he stretched luxuriantly. “No” I grunted. “Try these tablets, they are great” he said passing me a blister pack of pills. “Take a couple if you think you need them” he suggested. Now I do not usually take any kind of pills but I swallowed two of them out of desperation. They were high dosage Temazepam.

I fell into an immediate and spectacularly deep sleep for a very long time. In fact it was longer than the flight. Nobody could wake me. The crew tried, even the captain had a go. The old lady poked me with her knitting needle and someone tried cold water but nothing would revive me. They needed to land the aircraft but they had to do something with me first. In the end they put my seat upright and let me hang in it, bent double by the seat belt.

I was still in my drugged sleep after the plane landed and everyone else had disembarked. Eventually they got enough life out of me to manhandled me off the plane I still had my airline pyjamas on as nobody was prepared to change me! They left me in a plastic seat by the jetty along with my clothes on a hanger where I slept another two hours. At least one other plane load of passengers disembarked at that gate and walked past I heard one say “he must be drunk, disgraceful”!

I finally struggled awake, grabbed my things and ran to a toilet still dressed in my grey 'sleep suit'. Somehow I got myself to my car where I slept for another hour until I was awake enough to drive home. I got home and went to bed.
And then? I couldn’t sleep!

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