Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Flying High

Delta Airlines look set to start offering cheap flights with free booze from Sydney to LA, starting next month. And I, for one, won’t be booking them.

Yes, you read that right. The permanently broke Irish backpacker turned Aussie, whose travel and beer spend monthly is higher than her horribly expensive Sydney rent, won’t be booking or even looking at them.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my fondest, and fuzziest, memories involve free bars. There is a place for free alcohol in both my heart and real life. I just don’t think that place is on a metal tube packed with three hundred people and only three bathrooms, whizzing through the air at 600mph.

That’s over 900 kilometres an hour, for those of you too drunk to convert. The reason that you are so drunk is that the cabin pressure affects how your body deals with oxygen, meaning that a small beer can affect you like a very large one.

While getting extra drunk on less might seem great, you’re getting something else for free too. You can also look forward to a mother of all hangovers after the flight. Dehydration from alcohol is bad enough when you are on the ground, where a typical comfortable humidity level is over 35%. Relative humidity is 20-25% in the Sahara deserts, which seems dry until you realise long haul high-altitude flights average around 10%.

You’re probably already mildly dopey from the cabin pressure and losing water fast. There’s not a moisturiser in the world that can handle that and half a bottle of vodka to “take the edge off”.

If you need to take the edge off, you should probably look at options other than alcohol which, in addition to being a depressant, also increases anxiety and the chance of panic attacks. But there’s not much point you sticking on your headphones and trying to relax when the bloke next to you is on his fifth beer and trying to either pick a fight or pull the hostie.

There is nothing wrong with a little alcohol applied to the correct point. Friday night dancing, lunch in a sunny beer garden, relaxing in the bath after a long day – all these cry out for a glass of your favourite tipple.

But strapped into your seat in a row, surrounded by silent strangers, and with nothing to distract you but the in-flight magazine, it’s not much fun. What is normally a relaxing and social experience becomes solitary and oddly creepy. It’s like something out of 1984.

“When the flight is underway and the seatbelt light blinks off, it is Compulsory Fun Time for you, citizen. Open your drink, place in the provided glass. Drink your drink. Do not move from your seat unless you wish to use the bathroom. Do not have more than the prescribed amount of fun. When the seatbelt light goes on, return to your seat. All fun must cease as we approach landing. I repeat, all fun MUST cease.”

Not to mention the fact that if someone decides to get drunk and rowdy, you are stuck with them until the flight lands. It is apparently considered bad form to ask the bouncers to chuck them out at 40,000 feet. This is what you have to look forward too on your flight, being stuck with every idiot who equates flying to LA with a fourteen hour booze cruise.

Unlike a pub, here people can vomit into bags while remaining in the seat next to you, and that’s fine.

And unlike the pub, you can’t just leave when you want to get away. When some guy from business class starts hitting on you talking about his “extra legroom” or a smashed cougar keeps leaving the bathroom door open and winking, you’re stuck there. Passing out drunk would seem like a great option, but there’s ten people queuing for the bathroom and you think you can hear someone either having sex or vomiting in there.

Stressed staff, terrible dull decor, dehydration, people sweating booze and swearing, children kicking your seat and the chorus of wailing babies – you might as well go drinking in A&E.

I like a drink, but fourteen hours on a plane recreating a hospital ward or police waiting room at 2am on Saturday morning doesn’t sound like fun. Which is why, while I am delighted Delta are offering, I won’t be taking the cut price dipsomaniac deal to California.

I’ll be flying one of the other airlines and enjoying the savings. Competition from Delta will bring down the price of flights, and Delta’s flights will take the passengers I hate to travel with off my hands. I can get to LA, on the cheap, and arrive fresh and ready to enjoy my holiday.

I’ll drink to that. And I’ll happily pay for that drink too.

808 words


  1. Very good, we like this. One wonders, too, what enough alcohol supply for fourteen hours of Aussie demand weighs? Will those planes get off the ground?

  2. Damnit! Lost my comment. This may be shorter...

    Oddly enough, there has always been free booze on all the flights I have taken between Ireland and Japan, and this hasn't resulted in a "party in the clouds" kind of affair. I think it may be down to the passengers' reasons for travelling - in this case, most people just wanted to get to their destination, have a glass of wine with the plastic-encased dinner, and possibly a brandy or something later to help their bodies to go to sleep when still thinking it's 4 in the afternoon.

    There will always be one or two people who will overindulge, but they're the same kinds of people who'd be sneaking a bottle of vodka in in their hand luggage in any case.

    Regarding the writing, I liked this piece. It was funny, interesting and pretty well written. I also felt that, stylistically, it was not as good as many of your LJ posts (this was something I also felt about the Paddy's day article you posted a while ago). While this was amusing, other posts I've read from you have been laugh out loud funny, and surprising to boot. I just feel that this is missing "Something Sadhbh"...

    If I were to try to put my finger on it, I would guess that you are being more restrained in your use of analogy and language - perhaps trying to appeal to a wider audience, perhaps trying to be more "appropriate" for publication, I'm not sure. (And of course this is just guessing and saying how it appears to *me*). But these are the very things that have always set you apart as a writer in my tiny mind. This is good, but I believe that if you stick with Sadhbhy style, you can write articles that are excellent, and unlike anyone else.

    Anyway, I'm obviously in a position to criticize writing, having done so much of it! Thanks for letting me read and share my opinionated opinion.