Frequent traveller: Stuck in the middle

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  • Anonymous


    In which our correspondent, reduced to cattle class by his firm’s travel policy, becomes the filling in an inedible sandwich…

    Work has picked up recently, thank goodness, and we are busy, though most of the interest seems to have shifted to Asia and China in particular. As a result, I have now been able to add the London to Beijing flight schedule to my repertoire. Unfortunately, between volcanic ash and union action, there hasn’t been much stability or confidence in travelling with British Airways of late, and my Executive Club miles have suffered.

    The possible threat to my gold status hasn’t been helped by my firm’s European travel policy, which stipulates that I have to fly economy on short trips. I really don’t think this policy is a bad thing, except when it matters, which is just about all the time.

    On one recent trip, I had to fly to Germany on the cheapest non-flexible fare with Lufthansa. So far, so good, so cheap. But, of course, the reason we business travellers like flexible tickets, and why restricted economy fares are a false economy, is that things change. And when they do, you pick up lots of extra cost, and you waste lots of supposedly precious time. I’m not saying I’m worth the hourly rate my firm bills me out at, but if I spend hours sitting around at an airport it’s very difficult to bill anything (although it doesn’t stop them trying).

    So, inevitably, my meeting ran late and I missed the return leg. When I got to the airport, I begged my travel department to let me get on the next BA flight rather than wait three hours for the next Lufthansa one, and they reluctantly agreed. Business class on the BA flight was wide open but, unfortunately, not a ticket option under the policy – I tried, believe me. Still, I was lucky to secure the last available economy seat – a middle one at the very back, my favourite. Happy to be getting home, I even thought I had fluked an empty row of three when the crew started to shut the doors and the seats were still vacant.

    Cue lots of laughter from two drunken businesswomen bouncing down the aisle and off the passengers, yapping loudly to each other for the benefit of everyone else. The only free seats were – you guessed it – next to me, and as they got to my row I stood up and offered to take either the window or aisle so they could sit next to each other. Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee with too much make-up on and bathed in so much perfume it stung my eyes, they told me in turn, “I must have an aisle” and “I must have a window”.

    I was now the meat in a bad petrol-station sandwich. No problem – I had my iPod and newspaper so could disappear into my own little world for the 90-minute journey. Some hope. Before we had even taken off they started talking across me. By now I was sure this was a wind-up and that I was being filmed, but no one came forward to grant me an escape.

    Once again, my neighbours declined my sincere offer to swap seats and in fact seemed indignant that I would even suggest such a thing – you’d think I was asking for the secret of their elaborate dress sense or querying how their travel policy allowed them to buy unlimited quarter-bottles of airline white wine. So an hour and a half later I was fully up to speed on why you must insist on Sancerre and not Chardonnay in their favourite curry house, what Jill in accounting was doing with Terry from payroll, key failings in the HR department in which they both worked, and why all men were bastards.

    To put a cherry on it, along with a sparkler and a little green plastic monkey that clings to the side of the glass, Debs, on my right, by now five bottles of wine into the flight, suddenly noticed I was there and tried to engage me in some daft discussion about the price of Spam in her local Spar (honestly). When I politely declined, she said I was the rudest person she’d ever met, and Kerry on my left agreed. My only reply was: “In that case, you mustn’t get out much.” You can imagine how that went down.

    With hindsight, I would gladly have paid for the upgrade personally or burned some of my precious miles, but perhaps that’s what the travel department had in mind when they brought in the policy. Next time I’ll just take my medicine and wait another three hours at an anodyne German airport to save my firm £100.


    Oh mate! I really feel for you!

    I had a similar experience about 3 years ago on an Iberia flight on my way back from VLC. I unfortuntaley had four chavvy females in their late teens who after depleting their funds after a week in Spain (they supposed to stay two months) were returning home. I was boxed in by the window, with two sitting in the seats in front leaning over taking to the two to my left.

    Next time this happens undo the top three buttons of your shirt, and hold the sick bag out in front of you and breath deeply and give a faint moan from time to time. Then after 20 mins or so make a comment about the burger you had for lunch may be making a comeback!


    This just reinforces my long held view that airlines should make sure that people travelling together sit next to each other, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of other passengers.

    There would be none of the above, and no couples or familes moaning that they are not sitting together either. But then airlines wouldn’t be able to charge for assigned seating.

    Also chavs, children and similar groups down the back, and business travellers at the front (in any cabin class).


    I thought chavs were restricted to their very own flag carrier, Ryanair….


    Hilarious, the epitome of sitting wedged between Sandra and Tracy from Viz.


    absolutely hilarious and very funny, however as witnessed on many occasions myself and in that case it is not funny at all when you find yourself in the middle of those indivisuals.
    I do wonder sometimes how on earth people choose their conversation topics and it does wind me up, when couples or others try the “trick” (yawn) choosing aisle and window, hoping the middle seat will stay free, as if on a full flight, and then have the hump that someone sits in the midle. Bless them, NOT


    Conversations from others on planes and especially lounges are so predictable;
    Not that you are listening but some travellers just want to be heard;
    Lounges; You never hear anyone on the phone back to the office saying that in the meeting today with the customer they crashed and burned!! No they only ever seem to have had wonderful meetings, so assume we will see this in our GDP very shortly as a nation?

    Colleagues together on the plane travelling back from an internal meeting;
    Always begins “good meeting, long agenda but very worthwhile”, but then the character assassination of other colleagues begins, and it always starts;
    “Don’t get me wrong, really nice guy but ………

    Sound familiar?


    I can’t believe that your “two slices of bread” would have the cheek to call you rude after having talked through you for half the flight.

    I saw the same thing happen to a passenger on a recent flight and he had the perfect solution. He took his copy of The Daily Telegraph out and read it unfolded in front of him.

    His neighbours lost sight of each other and so shut up!!!!!


    Which part of ‘public transport’ is the correspondent having difficulty understanding?

    Next time, go by private jet.

    Otherwise accept what you get when travelling in economy.


    There are times when the ability (in a pressurised cabin) to audibly break wind upon demand comes in useful


    Excellent, hilarious post by Anonymous.


    Word to the wise … if you fly on one of the Calgary to Frankfurt non-stops in business class on a Sunday, you may be in for a treat.

    Every Sunday, several “roughneck” oilfield workers are rotating back into the Middle East. Unaware of the Sunday demographics, I found myself on one such flight in the summer of 2007.

    My guess is 21 out of the 42 business class passengers were roughnecks. In terms of fashion, think ‘Hells Angels’ or the cast of ‘Wild Hogs’. Now, 20 of these gentlemen were in fact very well-behaved … and hats off to them for performing very dangerous work that keeps our wide-bodied aircraft fueled with Middle Eastern oil.

    However, that 21st oilfield worker, my seatmate, appeared to be missing his airline etiquette “chip”. Things started out well enough, but somewhere over the Arctic Circle, my neighbour was feeling quite chatty … and who wouldn’t be after 3 Caesars, 2 glasses of wine, 2 glasses of port and 1 double Baileys? These drinks would of course be his last alcohol before a 35-day stint in a ‘dry’ oilfield camp in the Middle East.

    However, I was not feeling talkative and had reclined my seat to the lie-flat position (it was midnight after all), put on my noise reduction headphones, and was watching a movie on my personal video screen. The nerve of me!

    So, my seatmate started poking me to get a conversation going. When I politely insisted on NOT talking (Uh, hello! Headset on! International sign for LEAVE ME ALONE), he proceeded to stare at me, burp at me, and poke me for 10 more minutes. Then, with no warning, he leaned over at me, bathing me in his putrid, rotting-flesh breath and yelled, “F*** YOU!”

    Instantly, two flight attendants burst out from behind the galley curtains in both aisles (we were on a wide body A-330), one to whisk me up to the galley, the other (with the first officer as back-up) to have a polite chat with my seatmate. Apparently, you get one warning and then you get “carded” (i.e. banned from the airline for 1 year). If you choose to escalate the situation, then you finally get restrained with plastic handcuffs and duct tape … and of course get to meet friendly police officers upon arrival in Frankfurt. My neighbour opted to stay with the warning.

    The flight attendants plied me with freshly baked cookies in the galley until, as they predicted, my seatmate drifted off into a drunken, comatose slumber.

    I reluctantly slipped back into my seat (the flight was completely full) only to be kept awake for the rest of the flight by my buddy’s volcanic snoring. He was channeling Satan. His mouth was a portal into Dante’s Inferno. My skeletal structure vibrated with the harmonic frequency of his rhythmic snorts. Thank heaven for personal in-seat video … got to see 3 movies I’d have otherwise missed!

    At least in the morning, he was so embarrassed he didn’t even look at me, let alone utter another word.

    Lessons? Was my seatmate from hell a reminder to be really appreciative when travel DOES go smoothly? Should I have fought back the very first time my seatmate poked me? No, the airline staff actually thanked me for not provoking him. They said I played it right because the last thing any of us needed was an escalation over Greenland with a flight diversion to Iceland for a security incident.

    Ah well, not all travel adventures are fun, but as long as they’re amusing to my friends, who cares?!

    P.S. This incident happened in Business Class 1.0. With the introduction of Business Class 2.0 (pods with lie-flat beds), I would not have had a “seatmate” since my neighbour would have been safely, hermitically sealed away from his fellow passengers 🙂



    Very entertaining reading about your episode on that Air Canada flight from Calgary to Frankfurt sat next to an oilfield roughneck. I would not know how I would have reacted had I got such fellow passenger harrasing me constantly through out the flight but you sure have done the right thing! Bravo!

    I have no great love for the CX herringbone boxed-in seats but at least they would have shielded you from such unpleasant passenger.



    Vintagekrug – haha hilarious!!!!

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