A side from a brief trip to Madrid I have not been on a plane for nearly three years ever since the wretched pandemic reared its ugly head. All my international meetings suddenly became Microsoft Teams or Zoom calls and the get-togethers with close friends in London became Friday night cocktail group chats online. It has all served a purpose but there is nothing to beat meeting people in person and sharing hugs and laughter.

Have I missed flying? Not a bit of it. In truth, I loathe being on a plane and the whole airport process of checking in, battling through security, the grim waiting period along with hordes of others, the chaos and noise. I detest turbulence and having to go round and round in a loop while planes are queuing to land. It’s always when I get the jitters and sit willing the captain to head for the landing strip. On one BA flight we finally came into land but almost skimmed the runway before shooting up almost vertically into the sky again. There were screams and panic on board. When we did eventually land, the captain calmly announced that he had been forced to take to the air to avoid a collision with another plane. That wasn’t a cheering moment and did nothing for my confidence in flying.

At least getting on the plane is a mercy because you know you’re on your way. The only proviso is that hopefully you have a ticket for a seat that you actually want. I have always been meticulous about this which is why I prefer that others don’t book my seat. I always book an aisle seat at the front or as near to the front as I can. Being in the middle seat is a no-no and window seats are fine for a view or kip but you’re a prisoner and dependent on others to let you free.

I also like to get off the plane as quickly as possible when we land so it’s aisle seats for me all the way.
So, now I’m getting to the rub. When you’re seated comfortably in your pre-paid seat what do you do when a member of the cabin crew or a passenger approaches you with those dreaded words: Excuse me, would you mind giving up your seat for this family so they can be together? Real answer: Yes, I jolly well do mind because unlike them, I bothered to pre-book my seat some time ago and have paid to be here. Of course, usually, I’ll weigh up the situation. More often than not, I ask the cabin crew if they’d mind approaching someone else as I dislike flying and choose my seat carefully, adding that I’ve paid a premium. On a good day, they’ll smile and leave you in peace but on a bad day they’re back, wringing their hands.

On one flight, an aggressive man said to two of us in an upfront row with a seat between us that if one of us didn’t move, he’d dump his ten-year old there. Neither of us appreciated being threatened for simply having had the nous to pre-book our seats. We said that would be fine. And it was. He was a charming fellow and I even bought him a soft drink. What an awful example his belligerent father had set though.

So, I sympathised with the business woman who wrote this week in a national newspaper on this very subject. She said that she would no longer be harangued or made to feel guilty by families and forced to move seat just because she was single and had pre-planned her journey.

Sometimes there are genuine reasons why families haven’t been able to book together, for example, a cancelled or last-minute flight. In those cases, I will weigh things up and if necessary step in to help. All the same, it is surely all of our responsibility to pre-book seats according to our needs and not expect others to bail us out on the day? I can’t say I’m much looking forward to taking to the skies again but I will be travelling for work in a few months’ time but the thought of seeing close chums again, will justify the pain.

Feral Britain

Some say it all began with Brexit, while others believe the pandemic was the big awakening. Whatever the weather, the fact is that Britain is fast becoming a feral country and a no-go destination for many overseas visitors. Daily newspaper reports are filled with reports of gang crime, rapes, the murder of young children in broad daylight, the NHS’s complete meltdown, and brawls burnings and killings at festivals that include Leeds and Reading, and Notting hill. It’s a national disease and part of it perhaps lies in xenophobia. When did the rot set in? Gang crime in London has escalated in recent years with the incumbent mayor seemingly unable to keep it under control. Cities such as Liverpool are also drowning in knife and gang crime and police forces country-wide seem powerless or too inadequate to meet the challenges.

There appear to be a growing number of attacks on immigrants or foreign residents which has most likely been triggered by Brexit. Although countless foreign workers left the UK following Brexit, leaving huge gaps in the workforce, including the NHS, many still remain. A fury at the pandemic, false promises of Brexit, a government in total disarray, economic turmoil and a mounting fear of the new cost of living seem to have combined to put Britons in a very dark place. Every day, a new tragedy or horror seems to be unveiled. The fragile and vulnerable UK is a tinderbox and now, very much alone.