This per­fect pas­sen­ger is a pain in the seat

THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - DOMINIC DUNNE

THE flight at­ten­dant asks if I would like a drink. Her trol­ley is stacked with clink­ing, glis­ten­ing bot­tles, their gold stick­ers boast­ing a host of awards and promis­ing a sym­phony of flavours.

Be­fore I can re­ply the pas­sen­ger next to me asks for iced wa­ter. I pre­sume he is opt­ing for a palate-cleanser which, to me, is a glass of brut cham­pagne. Each to his own.

But as the flight pro­gresses and he res­o­lutely re­fuses any­thing but wa­ter, he starts to an­noy the heck out of me. How dare he sit there and drink wa­ter. What is wrong with him? I’ll ac­cept only ex­pla­na­tions of med­i­ca­tion or mem­ber­ship of AA.

Thank good­ness the flight is a short haul. Imag­ine if it were a 12-hour marathon. I’d be driven to dis­trac­tion by this man. In fact, I’d prob­a­bly have to move seats. How dare he get on a plane and act all per­fect. He is giv­ing the rest of us a bad name.

Such be­hav­iour should not be per­mit­ted in busi­ness class or, heaven for­bid, first class. If you’re go­ing to sit up the front of the plane, you are morally obliged to eat and drink.

I’m start­ing to feel sick. Maybe it’s the wine. No, no, I rea­son. It’s the par­si­mo­nious, sanc­ti­mo­nious man be­side me. He’s nau­se­at­ing. And then, if that’s not bad enough, out come the fab­u­lous state-of-the-art noise-re­duc­ing head­phones. ‘‘Oh, that just about takes the cake,’’ I say to my­self.

I’ve read about his kind — the Per­fect Trav­eller. They’re con­stantly be­ing in­ter­viewed in mag­a­zines and travel sec­tions about their tips and it al­ways goes like this: Q: What are your best fly­ing tips? A: Never drink al­co­hol and have lots of wa­ter. Q: What do you al­ways pack? A: My fab­u­lous state- of- the- art noise-re­duc­ing head­phones.

Thank good­ness my neigh­bour fi­nally turns away and nods off. Un­less he has eyes in the back of his head, he doesn’t know I am still star­ing dag­gers at him. But whereas be­fore it was dis- dain, now it’s fas­ci­na­tion. Some­where be­tween a full glass and an empty glass, my at­ti­tude has soft­ened into sym­pa­thy.

As we near our des­ti­na­tion, I even start to envy him. He is ev­ery­thing I am not. Why don’t I drink wa­ter and have fab­u­lous travel gad­getry wor­thy of talk­ing about in an in­ter­view? I bet if I could have a roo­tle through his suit­case, I’d find it to be neu­rot­i­cally neat, a cel­e­bra­tion of ob­ses­sive or­gan­i­sa­tion.

It’s not like I’m a novice trav­eller. On the con­trary. No, ex­pe­ri­ence has noth­ing to do with it. You’re ei­ther like this man or you’re not.

Even­tu­ally it gets too much for me and, when he rouses him­self and re­moves his fab­u­lous state-of-the-art noise-re­duc­ing head­phones, I seize the op­por­tu­nity.

‘‘So tell me, you don’t usu­ally drink al­co­hol on a flight?’’

‘‘No, never, it de­hy­drates me.’’ It’s the text­book an­swer. I knew it.

‘‘And food? I sup­pose you find it bloats you?’’

‘ ‘ Yes, in­deed, I usu­ally don’t eat when I fly.’’

I’ve heard enough. The wine has now lulled me into a po­ten­tially mo­rose state of in­tro­spec­tion.

The flight at­ten­dant comes to my res­cue in the nick of time.

‘‘You’d like an­other glass of wine be­fore we land?’’ she asks.

She is al­ready pour­ing and I’d kill for a choco­late. Dominic Dunne is the author of Ad­ven­tures of a Com­pul­sive Trav­eller (Tran­sit Lounge).

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