After a while flights all tend to just blend together. Yeah, there are always some strange booking issues, frustrating lines, numbing delays and the inevitable phenomenon where as soon as the plane stops moving and the seat belt light switches off with a triumphant “ping” the entire plane desperately jumps to their feet like they’ve just been formally summoned to bathe the Queen, pressing inward to the far-too-small aisle where they then wait for the next five minutes for the doors to open, a sweaty, tightly-packed line of people shifting and pulsing like an enraged prostate gland.
However, our flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok on “The Airline Formerly Known as Royal Nepal”, the “Royal” rumoured to have been stripped as a result of a deviant animal husbandry scandal, turned out to be truly unique. The signs were all there, starting right from the twenty-four times I tried to confirm our flight two days prior to departure. See, we’d already heard that Nepal Airlines sometimes viewed purchased plane tickets and printed itineraries as nice guidelines to refer to but not necessarily a binding contract, kind of like the Ten Commandments, or the NHL’s anti-obstruction rules. Of my twenty-four phone calls, all from the borrowed, corded phone in the carving shop below our guesthouse, the final tally ran as follows:
– talked to an actual person six times
– four recordings
– fourteen busy signals
– transferred and dropped twice
– waited on hold eight times, the longest being twelve minutes before the call was cut off
– at various times given a total of seven different numbers to call, each of which resulted in a busy signal
– managed to give my flight date and destination twice
– my name just once
– zero times was I told the flight must be confirmed in person
The airport, of course, where we found out that because we had not confirmed our flight we were now flying two days later, although we would be graciously added to the stand-by list, like we were waiting for a table for two by the window. In any case the flight would be delayed six more hours (which ended up being eight hours).
Luckily though, they did manage to squeeze us on since the flight wasn’t completely full (why all the “stand-by” melodrama at check-in?) but our apparent punishment was being seated dead in the middle of a large group of Nepali men who appeared to be on a business trip, judging by the identical ill-fitting new Malaxini Consultants Ltd farmer caps they all wore at various jaunty angles, and flying for the first time, judging by everything else they said or did. The one exception was the bald, stocky tornado of a man who resembled an Asian version of “The Commish” and who may have been their leader, or else he simply took charge on the basis of his previous flight experience, natural arrogance and shiny cell phone. I’ll start with him:
In addition to his aformentioned physical attributes he wore a bright, tight, silk shirt that may as well have been a sign saying “I’m Pimp Reggie”, which did, however, meshed seamlessly with the gaudy sunglasses on his head, the chain around his neck straining to support what appeared to be a stainless steel tea saucer, and a massive pinky ring featuring a roughly-hewn rock the orangish colour of a January tan at the Pat and approximately the size of my right testicle.
Right from the start he began rubbing people the wrong way, literally, as he ploughed his way onto, and through, the crowded airport bus with the oblivious confidence of a man on his way to conquer France. Once finally aboard the plane it took him several minutes to squeeze all three of his carry-ons into the previously empty overhead compartment, one of which he could barely lift, red-faced and straining like he was delivering a climactic sitcom baby. With me hovering over his shoulder sighing meaningfully the entire time he finally settled into his window seat with a dramatic show of agitation. There he sat, brooding and sullen, until slowly a smile spread across his round face as the tiny hampster inside slowly turned up the dimmer switch. A billboard practically lit up across his forehead – I’ll get that foreigner in the aisle seat to trade with me, even though he is clearly traveling with that girl across the aisle, so that I can more effectively wreak havoc and act nine years old! He seemed shocked when I turned him down. Even more so the second time, and the third. Finally he tried a sales pitch: “The window seat, I think, better for you.” Compelling, but no. Normally I actually like the window seat, especially since I could already tell I’d be spending half the flight with this goon “ass or crotch”-ing me on his way to important shenanigans around the plane, but at this point he could have offered me a chance to bring peace to Africa while picnicking on Angelina Jolie’s breast and I would have still replied, “No thanks, I’m good”.
He wasn’t exactly a hit with the flight attendants either, who watched grimly with pursed lips while he loaded the weight equivalent of a small donkey into the overhead compartment and proceeded to spend the entire flight acquiring as much free stuff as they were willing to hand over. Eventually his strangled cries for more wine and indiscreet use of the “Assistance” button led to our entire row having our reading lights turned off while we received a stern talking to. Eventually they refused to bring him anything else so he settled for ordering drinks for other members of the group, portioning out beer to be shared among the underlings in the Malaxmi hats. In between run-ins with the stewardess he spent his time crawling over the middle guy and bulling past me to monopolize the bathroom (he always “gave the ass” incidentally), laughing loudly at his own stories and impressing us all by making the lights flash on the the cell phone that wasn’t really supposed to be turned on.
I could hardly wait for the plane to land, partially to be rid of Barney Rubble’s overbearing presence, but mostly because I was very much looking forward to impeding his mad rush toward the aisle when the plane finally stopped. Sure enough, as predictable as a dog sticking his nose in your crotch, the moment we stopped he was on his feet, pushing at the middle guy, frantic and desperate like the villain had locked him in a sealed chamber and the water had reached his chin, and was still rising. When I feigned surprise, “What? Me? You want what? Get up? Nah, there’s nowhere to go yet anyway…” his face actually made me start to worry a little, thinking how I only had four t-shirts with me, and that I would hate for this guy’s head to explode and take 25% of my wardrobe with it. But you know how it is, “A watched head never explodes”, and we left with nothing worse than cramped legs and the greedy airborne germs of a hundred coughing and wheezing people.
This short, but surprisingly gangly, collection of knees and elbows sat in the opposite middle seat, next to Laynni, rigid and white-knuckled in anticipation of what would clearly be his first flight. His strange bowl cut made the stiff, crooked Malaxmi hat almost a welcome addition, but it couldn’t mask his confusion as he contemplated the baffling intricacies of the seat belt. He learned quickly, though, soon both solving the mystery of the seat belt and deciding that the comfortable ease with which Laynni had handled the metallic puzzle marked her as his in-flight mentor from then on. So, after a nervous, in-depth perusal of the “Just In Case” safety pamphlet and an animated followup discussion of it’s meaning and merits with the guy next to him (was the mask saving them or killing them?) he settled down to the task at hand, learning the flying game.
When the cabin lights were turned off it caused a huge stir, our shocked section rumbling with stressed murmurs and uneasy laughter like when the lights go out in a Grade Three classroom, until Laynni’s reading light popped to life out of the darkness like a divine beacon, as though God was inviting us in for Pina Coladas and Twister. His neck craned as he slowly retraced her movements, finally uncovering the secret, then spastically jabbing his own light on and off, along with that of his neighbour, in victorious glee.
Then a brief interlude where he celebrated by picking his nose carefully and thoroughly before wiping it on several of the readily available public surfaces. Then it was back to work, his elbow resting on Laynni’s thigh as his face swooped in over her shoulder to hover inches from the booked she seemed so strangely engrossed in. How anyone could read surrounded by the these wonderfully miniature marvels of technology was beyond his comprehension.
He studied her as she lowered her food tray, managing to unhook his but jumping in shock as it slammed down, thankfully stopping just inches from his crushing his legs. Unfortunately he missed the part where she carefully unwrapped the cling wrap from the bottom of her meal upward, and he had to resort to tearing it to shreds from the top like he was Andie finally getting to the really big Christmas present she had been saving for last.
He watched her demurely shake her salt, rip off the corner and sprinkle it across her meal, then picked up his own salt, shook it as hard as he could like a dog that’s finally caught the smartass squirrel that’s been mocking him all summer, tore it in half and dumped the entire contents on a small slice of tomato. At this it was all Laynni could do to stifle a laugh, although he then ate the tomato happily, so what does she know?
He saw her portioning out her butter, quickly deciding he wanted in on that action, although he had missed some key steps there as well and wasted a couple valuable minutes trying to saw through the foil with his plastic knife before she politely pointed out the flap. With his butter now liberated he speared it with his knife, poked a hole in his bun and shoved the whole square into the centre. A time-waster he was not.
Eventually the meal came to a close and he watched with interest as Laynni picked a few crumbs off her lap and placed them on her tray. As if to say, “clever”, he grunted softly, frowning in consternation as he looked upon the mess covering his shirt, pants and seating area. Disgusted with his barbaric ways he exploded into action, violently swiping crumbs in all directions like he was protecting himself from a gang of crab lice on their way to a huge party in his groin.
Having solved that problem he set his mind to once again studying his tray table, and soon became frustrated with his various failed attempts to return it to its upright position with his dirty plates still on it. How that tray was going back into place and how the remains of his lunch were going to disappear into the back of the seat had him well and truly stymied. Never fear, though, eventually the flight attendant solved that little mystery as well and finallly he could just sit back, relax and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine. Except, rather than a flirty smile and plastic cup of cheap wine he and the guy next to him recieved only a frown and a sharp “NO”, her mood having already been soured beyond the limits of her patience by the aforementioned “Player”. Eventually, though, after much pointing, coveting and discussing of beer, his eminence himself had been cut off so he amused himself by procuring one frosty can of Heineken for Laynni’s two seatmates to share. They gratefully downed it in two swallows. Obviously not experienced drinkers, it took very little time for this to shock their systems and render them sluggish and inattentive for the rest of the flight, only rousing any further energy when the plane halted and they were compelled to join the epic struggle of Malaxmi hats converging on the aisle.
Everybody loves a happy ending.