Wednesday, 1 November 2017

AirPain! : A Tale of Airline Travel & Why (for most of us) it Sucks!

Unless you’re a toddler who’s packed all of their toys to take on a trip, or if the only other option of transport was a Greek ferry, no one enjoys economy.  The only reason you do it is because it’s the quickest way to get from where you are to where you want to be, like standing in a crowded lift or sleeping with your boss.  And much like both of those experiences, it’ll leave you uncomfortable and disappointed.  So before you next take-off, I’ve made a few “frequent flyer points” for you to share with your friends or whichever Uber driver is unlucky enough to be picking you up at your destination.

If my travel experiences were turned into a feature film.

I’ll start by addressing the struggle of all tall people, particularly because I’ve been a member of the ‘2-metre high club’ for several years now.  The struggle being that it seems only in the case of airline travel that tall people are treated like social pariahs.  Like we’re Dorothy rocking-up to Munchkinland and no one’s quite sure how they’re going to deal with us.  At any other point in life it’s an advantage to be tall; you’re the go-to guy for reaching things off high shelves, you’re the first person picked in sports teams at recess, you can date tall girls who like to also wear high heels.  Only airlines seem to think being tall is a lifestyle choice we should have to pay extra to find leg room to cater for.  Then, as I’m considering getting a “Tall Lives Matter” t-shirt printed, the guy next to me who looks like a before photo from Subway has his love handle pouring over my arm rest, still doesn’t have to kick in extra to pay for the portion of my seat he’s occupying.  It’s not like I told my parents to conceive me during an excursion to Chernobyl.  It’s not like I just splurged on good nutrition as a child and let my height get out of hand.  I bet this is why there are so few survivors in plane crashes.  It’s because we’ve got cashed-up members of the ‘Lollipop Guild’ sitting in the exit row with their feet swinging 10cms off the ground, meanwhile I’m stuck back here between ‘Captain Coughs’ and the ‘Michelin Man’ with so little leg room I’m using my ears as noise cancelling ear muffs.

I’m not even comfortable with the fact that to get an exit seat, us “vertically endowed” individuals have to answer “yes” when a flight attendant asks “are you willing & able to assist in the unlikely event of an emergency”?  I feel like, “No!  If I’m paying for leg room, I’d like it without a side serving of overwhelming responsibility, and if having that leg room comes with extra responsibility served standard, then refund my money”.  I’m trying to pay extra to purchase some blood circulation for my legs, not for a portion of the cabin crew’s workload.  Let me put it this way; I’m not tipping a restaurant waiter to seat me at a good table, only to then have him tell me that because I have more room than other diners to slide my chair out quickly, in the event of a fire I’m going to grab a fire extinguisher and unhinge a door so others can flee the inferno.

If I had a lollipop for every time I missed out on exit seats because they were already occupied by hobbits or munchkins, I'd have both types of diabetes.

On the plus side, all this has inspired me to write a book called the “Qatarma Sutra”.  It’s going to be a book with illustrations of uncomfortable seating positions you can somehow sleep in on planes.  It’s going to a real page turner for those who are used to sitting in positions too tight for them to be able to turn the pages of their books.

Turn to page 28 for instructions on the cover art positions: (From left) "The Limbo" when travelling alone with a row to yourself, "The Detention" when travelling alone with a row full of strangers, and "The Centipede" when travelling with very close friends with whom you're sharing a row.

Even if you’re so short that you don’t worry about leg room but you get an altitude nosebleed when you have to stand on the aisle seat to put your items in the overhead locker, the in-flight experience isn’t a great one.  This is because whether your life is constantly in leg room surplus or leg room deficit, I think we can all agree that planes have become ‘high altitude hospitals’.

Now as my Arts degree reminds me constantly, I’m not a doctor.  But as far as I can tell, the main symptom of people suffering from a contagious, coughing-dominated illness is the apparently uncontrollable desire to travel.  ‘Captain Coughs’ is just another member of a select group of sick travellers we’ve all encountered on-board any flight.  A contagious platoon of unhealthy individuals whose sole mission is to make sure the horror of your flight stays with you after you land.  I call them ‘The Really Dirty Dozen’.  You’ve probably also met and flown with ‘Sergeant Sniffles’, ‘Lieutenant Loogie’, ‘Major Malady’ even ‘Deputy Disease’.  On my most recent flight, the lady next to me coughed non-stop through an episode and a half of ‘Game of Thrones’.  She coughed so hard, I’m convinced that the two characters killed off in that space of time died because they caught whatever she had.  I think if we’re confined to a room surrounded by sick people, crying children and oxygen masks where we have to share a toilet, get served bad food on small plastic trays and watch limited entertainment on a small TV screen, we should at least be able to claim it on our healthcare package.  To stop that happening, maybe airports could start replacing the security scanners with anti-bacterial showers so we can stop people bringing viruses and infections onto flights as much as we’re trying to stop them bringing on nail clippers and foreign fruits.

You will never look at another in-flight safety demonstration the same way again, especially if you leave your earphones in and only see the flight attendant's hand gestures and mouth moving while you listen to your iPod.

I think it all started to go wrong for airlines when flying became more affordable.  Remember the old movies where people would be wearing formal wear and smoking on a flight?  Most airlines early on didn’t even have a class system.  It was like every commercial aeroplane was basically a combination of socialism meets Mad Men (an idea I would be all for bringing back by the way).  Sure tickets were more expensive but that just made sure you flew with a better class of passengers.  Tullamarine Airport didn’t look like Dandenong plaza.  “Karley” and “Jaysen” from Frankston’s dream of travelling to Europe wasn’t a chance of becoming a reality and Europe would remain free of Bintang singlets.  If you look at the evolutionary chart of airline passengers, you’ll see that somehow we went from suits and summer dresses to people wearing Pikachu onesies.  Also, if you’re one of those people who seem unaware that their neck cushions can be removed at some point between customs checkpoints at departure and arrival, you are a greater threat to your own safety than any neck cramp or act of terrorism.

A theory of evolution that Darwin himself would admire.

What we need to do is change the name of each of the class sections.  I’m happy to leave 'first class' as 'first class', but 'business class' needs to be changed.  If you’re so interested in business, why do you have a TV screen, lounge chair and a glass of alcohol in your hand at midday on a Tuesday?  What is your business, full-time dole payment collector?  It should be called “leisure” class.  You want to really get some business work done, let’s swap seats.  You’ll have a seat that only reclines to a 95 degree angle, ensuring you won’t fall asleep doing that important work of yours, a toilet with a wetter seat than bowl that’ll ensure you cut down on all of those unproductive toilet breaks.  Oh, you’ve also got completely unhelpful and unfriendly flight attendants at your beck and call to ensure you rely solely on your own abilities to get your work done.

You either have so much room for activities or no room for appendages.  There is no in-between.

After all of this, how do the airlines reward us for the way we somehow muster up the resilience and muffle our dignity to put up with this treatment?  They flick us a few frequent flyer points to keep us quiet for a while like the cheap mistress we are.  “Here, take this, go by yourself something shitty”.  I say “shitty” instead of “pretty” because as we all know, frequent flyer points are brilliant… until you need to use them.  Frequent flyer points are basically the Indonesian Rupiah of airline currency - just because you see a lot of zeros before the decimal point, doesn’t mean you’re wealthy.  When you understand that, you’ll understand why your frequent flyer points are more likely to see you walking away with a key ring and rubber ball than with a flight to the Maldives.

Pretty much the only thing making us look past all of the stuff that sucks about airline travel is the altitude.  For some reason the higher the altitude, the more likely we are to glorify everything that takes place there.  I imagine it’s why everything tends to be more expensive in rooftop bars than in underground pubs, why Heaven is up and Hell is down, why Santa is from the North Pole, why the rest of Australia sits separated above Tasmania.  In the air, a TV in the back of the seat is “in-flight entertainment” but on the ground, it’s just a sign you’re sitting in the backseat of a Toyota Rav4 and neither the driver nor front seat passenger has any interest in engaging you in conversation.  In the air, they’re “flight attendants”, but on the ground they’re just “McDonald’s staff on the nightshift”.  The ‘Mile High Club’ is probably the perfect example though.  In the air, it’s the “Mile High Club”, on the ground it would just be the “Public Toilet Group”.  Think about it, anywhere between the 1960s and 1990s, if you performed a sexual act in a toilet on a plane, you were cool and a lifetime 'Mile High Club' member.  You do the exact same thing on the ground and minus the turbulence, you’re George Michael and you spend 80hrs doing community service.  That’s really the greatest achievement of airline travel; it’s convinced generations of people that the 'Mile High Club' is something they should want to become members of.  Which is brilliant considering the membership application process combines all the relaxation of sex in a public place with all the joy of sharing a small toilet cubicle with another person.

Literally the only difference between these two photos is a few thousand feet, believe it or not.

So this is for those of you who are reading this as you’re thinking about booking your next flight, for those of you using the over-priced economy WiFi on board your current flight or those of you who are up at 2:30am reading this thanks to the jet lag from a flight you just endured.  Or maybe you’re where I would most probably be, somewhere in between all of these scenarios waiting to board a flight.  Every few seconds looking-up intermittently only to see the way dozens of people are pushing through to board first, in what I can only assume is a mass synchronised moment of amnesia, where they all seem to have forgotten that it’s allocated seating!  Wherever you’re reading, hopefully you’ve laughed so much your ears popped and you were hunched over in the brace position.  Most importantly though, I hope that at least some of the CEOs of major airlines are reading this and maybe, just maybe, considering making a few changes on our behalf.  And if they decide not to, I hope they’re somewhere sitting back reading this at an uncomfortable angle, grabbing themselves a thin plastic cup as someone pours them a room temperature undersized can of anything.  Oh, and that the next time they fly, upon landing they happen to share an Uber with a Frenchman named “Peter”.

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Friday, 10 February 2017

How to Be a Post-Modern Humanitarian… for Dummies.

There’s always been this key aspect of the whole “being a humanitarian” thing that seemed to stop many people getting on board the “humani-train” if I may.  The key problem’s always been to do with the fact that you can’t simply pick and choose when you want to be a humanitarian.  It’s not like a gym membership, which draws money from your account automatically each week and then you just decide when you want to appear to be a health-conscious human being in front of your friends so you go hit your once-monthly yoga class.  Nor is it like private health cover you can choose to suspend for a while when you feel like living dangerously.  For many though, that’s always been kind of the cool thing about being a humanitarian, it’s pretty much saying that you’re signing-up for compulsory compassion.  Basically that’s the low tolerance of douche-baggery and high-standard of decency that it demands.  It’s kind of a lifelong vow you take of not being a total wanker.  Kind of a bit too rigid though, right!?

So following on from that, and in the rich tradition of vegetarians who justify to themselves and others that it’s okay for them to hold that title while still regularly eating a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s, so to has evolved what I’ve come to call (and should it generate royalties, trademark) “The Post-Modern Humanitarian.”  It’s not an easy process of evolution and Darwin (both Charles and the Australian town) would be impressed at the sight of the evolutionary chart.  The post-modern humanitarian is a complex beast, who in a more local context until yesterday had no issue with supporting the destruction of its neighbour’s home but will today scold anyone not offering accommodation to said neighbour when they're left homeless.  It’s important to note that I must refer to the post-modern humanitarian as “it” and “they” because the post-modern humanitarian also becomes easily aggravated when a gender is assumed.  So without further ado, here’s a step-by-step guide on how one can take steps towards joining this elite club of elitists.

I don't think it's too early to start building the "best-seller" hype around my new book.

Well the first step involves accepting that transition into the life of a post-modern humanitarian is a difficult one.  Sure it makes it easier that post-modern humanitarianism is to classic humanitarianism what the “bro code” is to your classic codes of ethics.  The post-modern humanitarian has to preach peace, love and tolerance like it’s Woodstock ‘69 after most of their previous geopolitical philosophy has been based around every “boys’ trip” in history.  A philosophy based on the credo (and this needs to be read in the voice of a drunk American frat member) “hey bro, what happens in Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc, stays in Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc!”  It’s a particularly big transition for my Australian readers because burying one’s head in the sand is a massive of part of Aussie culture.  So much so that we have an emu representing half of our coat of arms.

The next important step is to make sure you’re easily offended.  To use a sporting metaphor, here’s the "game plan"; the best offense is finding everything offensive to the point where you make everyone else defensive.  That means taking every opposing viewpoint to heart.  It may also require regularly changing all of your profile pictures on social media and though you may feel super emotional about any given issue, don’t let your lack of fundamental understanding of the issue stop you from writing about it.  Sure, you can’t put together a well-constructed article based on research and examination, but a solid Facebook post or tweet will suit you perfectly.  Then you can tell people “hey, it wasn’t my lack of understanding that kept me from writing more, it was the 140 character limit!”  Also, not essential, but it’s going to really help if you hold deep anti-Russian sentiments.  Not necessarily based on anything, maybe you just watched one too many 'Bond' films or tripped on a babushka doll when you were a child.

If these guys are in are in 'The Hangover 4' then you know we're all getting a part as extras in 'World War 3'.

Cool fringe benefit by the way; you’re going to find that you get through a lot more of your newspaper than ever before because you’re going to save yourself a bundle of time by only reading the headlines rather than all that pesky body text.  Ignore that body text like you do that one friend’s annoying child.  Oh and for the "millennials" out there, a “newspaper” is basically a printed out version of the Ninemsn website that is either thrown at your home daily by a child for pocket money or sold to you at a “newsagency” by a middle-aged man/woman who appears to still live with their parents and dreads the idea of selling you a winning scratchie ticket.

Next, I want you to find the section in your vocabulary where the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is listed and I want you to scribble it out til it looks like a declassified FBI document.  You need to get to the point where harsh words affect you so much that you have no issue with a government that uses deadly weapons and chemicals abroad but the sight and sound of particular adjectives and exclamation points cuts you to your core.  There’s no room for thick skin here, just thick heads.

If I could, I would make memes of Kermit to explain everything.

Once you get to this point, you’ll know you’re joining the proud history of people whose protests got the name of candy cigarettes changed to ‘Fads’ with just the exchange of a single consonant, the people who protested the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” before reading it thinking it was a how-to guide for shooting anything with wings, or even the people who got worked up over the prejudicial and stereotypical headline of the film “White Men Can’t Jump” before even watching the film and finding out in the end, hey, we actually can!  Albeit at the right moment and with the right pass from Wesley Snipes.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “but why are so many people choosing to become post-modern humanitarians?”  Well firstly – stop talking to yourself because it’s weird and secondly, it’s pretty simple; much like wet-look gel, cargo pants and the films of Mike Myers before it, it’s something that's really quite a popular choice.  And it’s easy to see why.  Unlike the classic challenges faced by humanitarians, post-modern humanitarianism really involves more “getting worked-up” than actually “getting up and getting to work”, so it’s more “keyboard warrior” than “rainbow warrior”.  Now that’s a pretty great sales pitch to a society made-up mainly of people who love to feel like they’re doing things more than they like actually doing things.  It’s why people post short life quotes from books they’ll never read about lives they don’t live.  It’s why Instagram has filters that literally only serve the purpose of making things look better than they actually are… and sometimes just more orange than they really are.  It’s why certain people on our Facebook friend lists are still somehow fat despite 12 months of incessant gym snaps, selfies and check-ins.

Not all heroes wear capes.  Some use keyboards.

The vibe I’m going for is along the lines of how I listened to my neighbour for 20 minutes while washing the car telling me that borders need to be opened to all refugees.  Which is great, however this is the same woman that I’ve seen threaten Mormons and salespeople if they try to set foot in her driveway.  If that’s what she’s going to do to a couple of white guys in suits, I can’t imagine she’s going to be too accommodating to a swarthy group of middle-easterners looking for long-term housing.

In the context of the Trump “border wall” plan, I’ll also take the time to highlight that as a next-level post-modern humanitarian it’s going to be important you become really “anti-wall”.  Like to the point where if it seems as if you’re going too far, just keep going because stopping now might mean you’ve hit some kind of metaphorical wall and you won’t stand for that kind of oppression.  That being said, if you’ve reached the point where you’re suggesting prison walls just be replaced with “sidelines”, then maybe pull back a bit because you probably think playing in traffic is a good idea too.  Maybe just start by making very broad statements like “no walls are good walls”.  Stuff it; retaining walls, firewalls, that broken one in Berlin, that great one in China, the one you saw made-up of players during a free-kick at the football, the one that ended the life of Humpty Dumpty.  Then being anti border wall just seems like a given.  I mean sure the borders exist, you’re not “anti-border”, you’re just anti “border-visibility from a distance.”  Your issue isn’t with the borders so much as it is with the height of the borders.  You’re not necessarily in favour of illegal-immigration but you're certainly in favour of giving illegal immigrants a fighting chance of breaking through.  Aaaand I think I just came-up with a brilliant idea for a new reality show – “Big Border!”

Residential fences are just wooden prison bars.  Let's end the segregation and intolerance.

Now almost 50% of Americans support Trump’s travel ban on certain countries.  So if my Grade 2 mathematics skills serve me correctly, that means about 50% of Americans don’t support the travel ban.  So it’s really a philosophical question; is America half inhumane or half humane?  Whichever side of the moral ‘Mexican border wall’ you stand on, it’s important to remember that short-term memory is the next key aspect of becoming a post-modern humanitarian.  Just look at the anti-Trump backlash from Americans based on this key migration issue.  I say this because it’s super admirable and mighty forgiving of Americans to take such a compassionate view of migrants seeking refuge in the U.S… seeing as the United States was kind of built on the Native Americans making exactly that mistake.  Too soon?

I’d also recommend focusing on the operative word “wall” because if you find out that five European countries (Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Hungary) already built border fences over a year and a half ago to keep out refugees and you stayed quiet while all that went on then the post-modern humanitarianism you’re fighting so passively for takes a bit of a hit.  If you can look past this, then it’ll really help you overlook facts like how the previous U.S president already implemented equally rigid immigration (and far more aggressive foreign) policies.  Oh by the by, it’s important that remember; every post-modern humanitarian is a self-proclaimed feminist too.  Don't ask me why, it just seems to be the case.

You either get demolished quickly enough to become a memory or you last long enough to become a tourist attraction.

Now if you’re worried about this all being a little difficult, well in the words of every cleaning products TV salesman ever, “worry no more!”  This is because the post-modern humanitarian focuses on leader likability above all else.  Hoorah!  Sucks to be you Donald!  You’re already painted as unlikeable, now you’re taking the job of the guy who (despite all the horrible crap he did on the side) was the most popular guy in the office.  And at the same time, you’ve forced him and his family out of his home?  You’re basically assuming the role of stepdad after one of the most amicable break-ups in history and taking sole custody somehow.  America played ‘catch’ with that dad… he was good at basketball… he was funny!  Sure he was at war for the duration of his presidency, but he always had time for America.  Sure he killed civilians abroad and allegedly supported terrorists in Turkey, but he cared about American civilians and he pardoned Turkeys at Thanksgiving.  Now ‘Donald the stepdad’ comes along, where even if he tells the same jokes as Barack, even if he says things that are totally reasonable like “hey Timmy, maybe stop flicking toothpicks at your sister and playing with matches”, Timmy’s still going to shout back “shut-up Craig… you’re not my dad!”  And Timmy’s right… but Timmy’s also a dick.  I changed Donald’s name to “Craig” for effect but you get this gist.

The gist being; the post-modern humanitarian doesn’t focus on the details.  The post-modern humanitarian knows deep down that homebrand “Wheat Biscuits” are exactly the same as regular “Weet-Bix” but it still always buy the latter because they’ve been marketed better and the packaging’s prettier.  Also, there’s my foreword for the book “U.S Presidency for Dummies” sorted!

I stand by all of the memes I create, especially this 'Liar Liar' based commentary on world politics.  Claw or no claw, it seems they're tough shoes to fill.

So whether you’re an aspiring post-modern humanitarian or you just know someone really annoying and were looking for an explanation as to why they are that way, I hope you’ve found this piece more amusing than informative.  I spend so much time writing tongue-in-cheek that it looks like I’m sitting at my computer with an everlasting gobstopper in my mouth.  And if you’re a post-modern humanitarian reading this, well I’m sure you’ve already stopped reading several paragraphs earlier before you realised this was just a piece of satire and you’re already leaving me a 700-word comment in the ‘feedback’ area.  Wherever you stand, I don’t mind one bit.  Because if “love trumps hate”, I’m pretty sure laughs cure everything.

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