Cattle Class Carnage



For distant expats, visiting friends and family can mean long, frequent flights. And, unless you’re one of the lucky few to afford first class, the journey in economy can leave you feeling like a second class citizen. Cramped conditions, hostile hostesses and pissed up passengers; this article takes a look at some of the stresses in cattle class.

In the cattle class cabin, time, space and social status temporarily lose their meaning.

And when you’re in it for the long-haul, you can also lose your sanity.

Trapped in a vacuum of constricted space, artificial air and inactivity[1], intense boredom and exhaustion ensues causing thoughts to become foggy and social norms unclear.

It seems on every flight there is at best a little disquiet, at least one fright, and at worse, a fight.

At least according to my experiences.

Returning from India, I animatedly argued with a hostile holidaymaker; going to Mexico I accidently knocked red wine onto a passengers pale pants; and, after a 12 hour flight to Thailand, my legs swelled so severely I truly believed it was game over.

But the best was in 2010 when emigrating to Australia. Toasting the trip with too much champagne and wine, I subsequently swallowed a strong sleeping pill in a bid to beat the lethargy on landing. Not recommended; I have zero recollection but was apparently rather raucous for some time.

Fast-forward five years; less uptight and with multiple 24 hour trips under my seat belt, including several solo sprees with an infant, I can finally class myself as a composed and accomplished commuter. Well for the most part.

Because there are several things in the questionable conditions of the cattle class cabin that can still rouse a reaction;

Aviation agitation: Most airliners carry an air of anxiety.  While once I flew without fear, excessive media coverage of rare catastrophes and perhaps some parental vulnerability have left me a little shaky. Sure, I still manage to look like a relaxed, rational and fearless flyer – in fact, I still enjoy the turbulence. But now I start the journey checking out people at check-in; deliberating their destinies and pondering potential terrorists. And I’m not the only anxious one; once on-board strong turbulence or strange sounds spark a surge of suspicious, stressed out glances as some silently pray for their survival.

Reclining seat etiquette:  The front runner of in-flight fiascos. On a recent night flight to Dubai, the passenger behind not so passively protested the reasonable reclining of my seat through forceful kicks and hard to ignore loud-mouthed objections. Something of a showdown arose. But when I realised the drunkenness of the people I was dealing with, I quickly backed down. Indignantly though, I kept my seat low. And while leg-room is already too confined[2], I hold the view that particularly on a red eye, that’s what it’s there for you to do?!

Sleep stresses: Gawping, drooling and snoring side by side with strangers. Anyone would think it’s an everyday occurrence. However, I have absolutely nothing but envy for the slobbering sleepers. Because on a plane, noise and neck pain make nodding off near impossible. I’ll often wake elated that I napped. Then sadly see I fell asleep for all of 40 seconds. It’s a fairly frustrating affliction to scan a sea of snoozing passengers when you’re desperate to be dozing too!

Provoking passengers: By the end of my Melbourne to Manchester expedition, two families felt like long-time friends. They chatted with me, helped entertain my toddler and saved my sanity! Alas, on the return from Manchester I wasn’t so lucky. Half the passengers were plastered. And tanked up travellers are a tad irritating unless you’re one of them. But it’s not just the intoxicated that can aggravate. Toilet tardiness, stinkers, sprawlers and loud talkers are common causes for complaint. It’s no wonder that in the air, under a guise of anonymity, tempers often flare.

Trolley torture; The cuisine carrying cart can be a highlight of the flight. And while the food is low quality, it’s a welcome break from the monotony up high. You pop your head into the aisle, but are disappointed to see it’s going to take a while. Worse, your parallel passengers are triggering further tension by already tucking in! And when at last it finds your row, it can be a real blow when those in front choose the last of your first choice, leaving only a dish you despise.

Hostile hostesses: Air stewards; the pedigree of hospitality[3]. The majority of carefully coiffed cabin crew are genial, gracious, good-looking and glamorous. Especially on Emirates.  Yet on every leg, one is sure to sport a sour face. Whether passenger contempt, job dissatisfaction or an oddly overblown ego; when you’re stuck on a plane reluctantly reliant for your requirements, it can only take one hostile host to add an extra strain.  

Screaming kids: These in-air disturbances can be intensely annoying until you have your own. Then they’re even more annoying. Because being disturbed by someone else’s screaming child is nowhere near as stressful as dealing with one. People who hold the notion that parents’ should, and can, continuously control their kids are clearly childless. Or old enough to have blocked out the bedlam. So while smug solo sky surfers are free to drink wine, watch films, listen to music and nod off when the feeling arises, albeit uncomfortably, poor parents are captive to the needs of bored, overtired and wired maniacs. And they are probably on the verge of losing it. So for those not so subtle sighers; lose the attitude before we lose our temper!

So, in cattle class, as we are propelled across multiple time zones and continents at 35,000 feet, we can sometimes lose our head.

Until finally we reach our final destination. And as quickly as we were sucked into the chaos of the cabin, we are swiftly spat out, disorientated, dishevelled and despondent.

Suddenly, any commotion that occurred in the clouds is downgraded to a distant dream like memory.

You made it.

The only thing left to worry about is death by Deep Vein Thrombosis.

What do you find annoying or amusing about cattle class? And what’s your view on the important topic of reclining seat etiquette? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!  

Find me on facebook: UpsideDown

[1] Some airlines are making improvements for herds of travelling cattle

[2]This new plane could mean more leg-room for cattle customers and could also help aggressive cows keep their cool

[3] I appreciate air stewards are more than ‘hospitality’ but I liked the phrase so i kept it.


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