The trouble with long distance air travel. Paris to Sydney. 2009

After the long flight back to Australia from France, we passed a Emirates airline billboard near the airport. As we sped by in our taxi homeward, I saw that the advertising slogan for the airline said something like, “Europe is almost as beautiful as the journey”.
My first thought at seeing the slogan was a very resounding, “BULLSHIT!”
Our flight back comprised of a  total 19 hours in the air and 2 and a half hours stop over in Singapore and after that long being cooped up  in cattle-class, I can definitively say, that unlike the pseudo philosophical “it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey” sentiments expressed on the billboard, flying long distances sucks! Unless one is rich and can afford first class or business class tickets, long haul flights are an exercise in a type of exquisite torture that combines uncomfortable cramped conditions and monotony, with the chance of a high speed, fiery, violent death.
Anyone who has read this blog over a period of time knows that I have a lot of goodwill towards the French, but my love of the French was sorely tested on the flight from Paris to Singapore.
Firstly the line to the check in at Paris for our flight on an Airbus A380 (largest passenger aircraft in the world that carries over 500 people) was obstructed and choked by a large group of French people on a tour.
For such a large aircraft as the Airbus A380, the line ups at check in can be very long, and everybody but them was lined up, but they insisted forming a large amorphous clump of well dressed stupidity that stood at the entrance to the check in without moving into the actual line. They weren’t moving forward and they weren’t allowing other people to move forward.
As the group was in a lump, there was no longer any order in the line and it was impossible for people wanting to check in to know where the line actually started. So Engogirl and I, with many other independent travellers formed up into a queue after the group. The line started to move into the nylon taped maze that is used in such situations and as we progressed, latecomers to the group started to passive aggressively try and push pass the rest of us who had been patiently waiting for the rest of their group to get their act’s together.
When I say “passive aggressively push past”, what I mean is that although there is an obvious line of people, the large group of late latecomers would wave at their friends, whilst making sure that they didn’t make eye contact with the people the were barging in front of. One or two people wanting to join their spouses or friends doesn’t bug me at all but when about 20 or 30 people try it on, it really gets on my wick and when I’m “pushed” in such cases, I always make it a point to “push back”. After a severl bunches of these French group members had weaselled their way past me, I blocked any further transgression of queue etiquette with my baggage trolley and faced off to the group and asked, “don’t you know what a line is?”
To which I was met with the kind of withering looks that the passive aggressive practice, and they ignored me as they kept trying to get around me. I stood my ground and told them to wait their turn.
One of the group members in the clot, tried to intervene with the startling logical argument of, “they’re with us”, as if that made all the difference in the world after so many people had already shown us how little they regarded anybody except them and their group.
I countered with, “there’s a line, and they can wait their turn”.
One of the group members started to go around sticking “La vache qui rit” (Laughing Cow) stickers on all the group members bag’s. I thought how apt, stickers for a cheese that is only surpassed by Velveeta in blandness, would be used by a tour group displaying a bovine herd mentality. As the members got their stickers on their bags it was as though they became aware of how big a group they were, and a few more people started to indicate with that the people who were trying to push in were with them.
By this time, even Engogirl who is a model of restraint and civility (concepts that I’ve only recently become aware of) spoke up and said, “but can’t you see there is a line?”, to which the passive aggressives still not wanting to make eye contact with me tried to push forward some more.
It was at this stage I used my black belt in communication and hit them and the group with a solid roundhouse, “fuck you!”
Finally I heard what I took to be the group leader (an alpha passive aggressive), unseen and hiding behind a wall of his minions, utter in the sort of unctious and wheedling voice that can control the sorts that go on tours, “is there a problem sir?”
To which he heard from me, “yes, there is a line here and I’m sick of so many people pushing past us”. There was no reply and after a few more minutes of our stalemate, a Singapore Airlines ground crew came up to us and undid the nylon tape that was being used to corral us towards the check in, saying “follow me”. He led us to the front of the queue just to get rid of us. Goes to show, that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and of course all the nice people behind us just had to put up with further pushing in.
What a pain in the butt!
When we got to our seats at the back of the plane it was obvious that we were seated amongst another large group of well dressed French tourists.
They all looked a bit older than me and it was obvious that most of them hadn’t travelled that much. The group was agog with excitement and they wouldn’t sit down out of the way as people were trying to get to their seats. Guys in their sixties who were probably the life of the party in their hey-day, where wandering around, “working the room”, getting in people’s way.
It was bedlam.
I expect better from the French , but the real truth be known, “clothes don’t maketh the man” and you can dress up a ignorant person from anywhere and they are still clueless no matter what striking figures they cut from a distance.
All through our leg from Paris to Singapore, the French tour group was like an excited class of school girls. They were up and down out of their seats, walking up and down the aisles, yelling across the middle seats to each other. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was being constantly hit by those raucous oafs as they partied up and down the isles I wouldn’t have minded. Even when there was turbulence, the determined socialisers continued to mingle with what seemed to be an attitude of “give me a party or give me death!”.
Both aisles were full of the noisy bastards for most of the flight. The only time they sat down was when the food was served. I spent half my flight with either a groin or butt near my face.
Over the years I’ve flown so much that I’ve seen what happens when a plane hits “clear air turbulence” and I’m one of those people who always has their seatbelt done up when flying. At least once or twice a year, here in Australia there are reports of people being hurt (usually, head, neck or back injuries) during flights going through rough turbulence because they haven’t been wearing their seatbelts (probably on the way to the toilets, I’d say).
It wasn’t just the constant jostling that was annoying it was also the state of the toilets after the superannuated  party animals had been in them. I’m not joking, they were always left in a mess and one occasion some bright spark thought it would be a great idea to piss all over the seat. I’m not talking a little sprinkle here, I’m talking, unload their whole cargo everywhere but in the toilet. I just couldn’t believe it and what made me really angry was that I knew that if I left in that state, people would think I’d done the dirty deed.
So I cleaned it up.
So much for the pleasures of flying!
As we disembarked in Singapore I was shocked at the mess of the place wherever the large French groups had been. It looked as though someone had emptied garbage cans all over, and there was a very distinct pattern formed by their litter.
A modern French midden if you will. 
What a bunch of peasants (even if they were wearing expensive clothing)! It just shows you can’t buy class, no matter what the advertising industry would have us believe.
The trip from Singapore to Australia was a complete contrast. It was a quietly civilised and orderly trip. When I was leaving I made a point of looking around the seats and floor and there was hardly any litter at all. Such a completely different attitude to flying couldn’t have been more clearly demonstrated.
Lastly I’d like to say that Singapore airlines is a great airline and their staff are a bunch saints. 

12 thoughts on “The trouble with long distance air travel. Paris to Sydney. 2009”

  1. I’m just glad this isn’t about a tour group of Americans!!!


    It’s a long time to be in a cattle car AND to clean the lav, too!

    It’s simply amazin’ what a well placed FU can do, though!

  2. Glad you wrote this one. Glad you said “Fuck you.” I only wish you would have played a few “harmless” pranks, you know, just fun stuff to laugh about with your new friends. There should be a book of “party tricks” that makes flying with such groups more enjoyable.

  3. “a modern French midden” — says it all! Sorry you had such an irritating flight, but at least you arrived.

    When we were sailing the Caribbean on our sailboat, it was well known among the english-speaking yachties that the French had the most atrocious anchoring manners. Always too close and sloppy. Often dangerous, should the wind switch in the night. The French were the only boats we ever had to yell at to get them to move, and they would respond with a friendly but frenchified “no problem”, and go back to their meal.

    Many of us concluded that it really wasn’t any meanness, but rather a national lack of any sense of personal space. Seems like your experience would bear that out.

  4. Pat

    Don’t worry about your fellow Americans, they tend to be well behaved. It’s drunken English soccer fans that are the worst and then there’s always Australians.

    I’ve seen a few Aussies that have made me feel so embarrassed by their behaviour. It’s not a pretty sight to see a plane load of drunken Aussies get off the plane in Bali.

    Cafe Selavy

    Some people are proof that indeed, shepards have at some time, interfered with sheep.


    It seems so contradictory that the French can be so nice and friendly and yet sometimes so thoughtless and ignorant. Then again, I guess that can be said for just about any group, but I suppose I was so disappointed because my experiences with the French in the past had been so positive.

  5. Well, I can imagine how immensely annoying this trip flight was and this sort of behaviour pisses me off too. However, I amnot sure whether it is French or Americans or whatever… I believe it is the large party-group dynamics. You know, “there is a lot of us and we are going to have a party, this is why we are here after all, ho ho ho, ha ha ha…” Two days ago I was sitting with my wife in a cosy little café in Belgrade, many small parties of locals (Serbs) around, twos, threes…, everything was nice, quiet, romantic, until a large group of Slovenians came and started to behave like animals, they just had to laugh and scream like monkeys all the time, it seemed such a fun thing to do (and such a stupid thing to do, observing from the outside…). So I was embarrassed too, being a Slovene. And yet Slovenes are known as shy, quiet and boring, and Serbs are considered as loud and aggressive. Not always so, indeed.
    So, in short, perhaps the large group dynamics plays its part here.

  6. Robert

    I know what you mean about groups but like I said before, I hold the French to higher standards than most other people because of the general high regard I have for them based on past experiences. I was so disappointed.

  7. Robert is right – stay clear of Slovenes in groups too :)
    Seriously, we always “duck and cover”.

    Apart from group dynamics, I think it has a lot to do with assumed superiority regarding destination of traveling – Slovenes would never trash a place in Germany but beware of them in Czeech republic where they could almost match the Brits in Estonia or Ireland.

    My experience with French is similar – the ones I got to know were all really great. But traveling around Bordeaux was hell – extremely rude, snobbish people, endless waiting, being sent in wrong directions, dirty, littered streets, trains… Our fondest memory of France is still crossing the border to Spain, which felt like returning to Paradise.

  8. Hi Razz,

    After some experience with short flights from the Netherlands to Spain and the UK, I’m not a great fan of flying. Flying in small jets such as Boeing 737 of Airbus A320 are travelling in air coaches with very small leg room. Acceptible for small people and for less than two hours, but not for Europe – Oz flights. They have not yet hard plastic seats, similar to the old wooden third class seats, but they are not so far from in the cattle-class. The worst is the requested two or three hours waiting for check-in and security, at malls with runstrips aka airports, and it is worsened with NorthWest Flight 253 Amsterdam-Detroit on Christmas Day, today security checks at airports are the same with former Eastern European controls such as Marienborn or Berlin Friedrichstrasse before the fall of the Wall. Flying sucks

    Yours, Joost

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