Ladies and Gentleman you are now boarded and it’s ready to fly Virgin.

Posted: May 15, 2012 in life
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Bless air travel. Bless them for trying so hard to maintain the myth that flying is glamorous. Admittedly Ryanair gave up the game years ago, its only nod to glamour being the on-board sale of cognac (albeit in a small colostomy-esque bag), but airlines like Virgin Atlantic do persist. Its £6m anniversary advert starred an army of red-suited hostesses mesmerising an airport with their perms and delight in 2009, and in February it staged an in-flight catwalk show. Today, in a move that makes one scrunch up one’s mouth sensitively and put one’s head to the side in a “Really, loves?” manner, it launches its own lipstick. Upper Class Red has been integrated into the cabin crew uniform and will be available for passengers to buy mid-air, passengers who want to borrow just an inch of these tired women’s glamour.

I’ve been on a plane. The glamour is not palpable. The glamour, more, seems pulped. Mashed into the bottom of a plastic cup and muddled with UHT milk. If glamour is excitement, power, the perfect application of eyeliner one-handed in a busy train carriage, then air travel ticks few boxes. It’s magic, sure. You fly through clouds! Less like a bird, more like a bubble floating up from a sudsy sink. But that’s where the magic ends. I’ve been on a plane.

There is no magic in the breath of a stranger on a nine-hour flight. There is no glamour in the queue to board, the line of families drained after an hour bickering by the Toblerone shelf in Duty Free, their grey faces only now realising they have two weeks ahead of them and only four things to talk about. No glamour in the death-metal snore of a drunk teenager. No glamour in being locked in a seat on a squat flying bus while miles below you stuff carries on happening, people keep on working, never even looking up. Nowhere else will you find a sick bag as standard.

Even when things on a plane appear to be glamorous and sexy, chances are they’re really not. Last week a friend woke up nine hours into an 11-hour flight to find he’d been leaning heavily on the woman to his right. He apologised, she replied, and 10 minutes later, after the heavy kind of flirting that can only happen in graduated compression socks, he passed her his phone, on which he’d cleverly written: “Meet me in the toilets”, before springing down the aisle.

Now. If it’d been me, the woman in the seat, in my long-haul glasses, my mouth tasting of dinner served at five, my eyes still full of tears from the tragi-rom-com I’d accidentally watched twice, I can imagine the debate in my head. I can imagine sex being the very, very last thing on my mind, way behind “This blanket smells of failure” and “I shouldn’t have had that beef”. I can imagine thinking: “Well, this is awkward. Would it be rude to just stay in my seat? Would that be rude?”

But this woman followed him. They did sex. He let himself out of the tiny loo, with its two-in one soap and air freshener and its strange girl getting dressed, and there, standing in the carpeted aisle, was a queue, headed up by a man holding his young, desperate-for-a-wee daughter’s hand. Back in their seats, this friend and the woman didn’t speak for the remaining two hours. As they started their slow descent, panicking, he formed a plan as his ears popped. He invited her for dinner. In the airport. Ashen faced, hair like nightmares, they wheeled their luggage to the nearest restaurant, where they ate pizzas together in silence. That was how it ended, this fantasy made flesh. In dough, and cheese, and medicated jet lag. That was it.

I do appreciate the gesture that Virgin is making, its attempt to make you feel like wonderful things happen at 35,000ft, like its cabin crew are Hollywood itself, but the reality of air travel – the swollen feet, the inflatable neck pillows, the hell of other people – tells a very different story.


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