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3:52pm on Friday, 22nd June, 2012:

Flying Home


Well, that flight home was a bit different.

I was supposed to fly home via Vancouver, but found that my flight plans had been changed unilaterally by United and I had a direct flight instead. That's fine, I prefer direct flights. This one, though, was not one of the best I've ever taken.

It started with a switch. Apparently, one on the pilot's control panel was broken. It took an engineer an hour to fix it, as it was quite awkward to get it. OK, not so bad, I could just go to sleep.

Well I could if it weren't for the noise.

I was in the window seat. There was a guy sitting next to me, then across the aisle a family of four: two parents, two toddlers. The toddlers were not happy.

For the first two or three hours, it was mainly the boy who screamed and cried an mewled. The girl only chipped in when he ran out of steam, or occasionally in sympathy with a baby some distance away who occasionally cried. After a while, though, the boy stopped and the girl took over full time. I mean full time, too — she must have cried perpetually for six or seven hours. I know she could stop, because she did stop when there were public service announcements; then, she started up again. Her parents were completely ineffectual at shutting her up.

Normally, when babies cry it's because of one of four reasons: they are tired; they are hungry; they need a nappy change; they're ill. For toddlers, you can add that they're frustrated/bored, too. This girl went on for so long that either she was ill in some way or she was incredibly frustrated. The flight attendant seemed to think that she might have earache, but I'm pretty certain she didn't because she wasn't holding her ears. The guy next to me suggested that she was teething, which was a lot more plausible and could be correct. To me, though, she seemed frustrated. She was bored witless trapped in an aircraft for 10 hours with nothing to do, so she bawled the whole time.

Here's a 20-second clip of what I and everyone else in that section of economy class had to listen to for hour after hour after hour. She was relentless!

I keep telling people that I don't get jet lag, which is true, I don't. However, I do actually need sleep. This is the third night in a row when I've been woken up. Augh!

As we approached Heathrow, we were told to get all our stuff together before we landed so that we could all pile out as soon as possible and people wouldn't block the aisles while they consolidated their bags. This was because the flight was late taking off so some people had very tight connections to make. Sure enough, when we pulled up to the gate we were all ready with all our stuff, eager to get off the flight and not have to listen to two screaming kids (the boy had joined in again at this stage). We waited and ... were told to return to our seats. A nice lady from Heathrow said that there was no need to worry, every passenger with a tight or missed connection had already been allocated a later flight, so would we just wait please until told we could leave. After about 20 minutes, the people in first and business class were allowed off, but in economy class we just had to sit there. Ten minutes or so later, two plain-clothes individuals described as "law enforcement officers" showed up and went to the back of the plane. We were then let off.

I haven't seen anything in the news about anyone's being arrested at Heathrow. It was probably nothing more than someone on Twitter threatening to mete death to parents who think it's a good idea to take two toddlers with them in a non-stop 9:15-hour overnight flight.

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).