The pilot’s announcement took me by surprise…

“Please can you stay in your booked seat for take-off and landing to manage weight distribution on the plane?” Yes, that made sense, “then once the seat belt lights are off, you can sit where ever you like.”  Well, that heralded the beginning of the most unorthodox flight I have ever been on.

Allocated seats

As instructed, we sat in our allocated places and were soon off, soaring through the clouds… comprised mostly of early morning East Rand pollution… and into the wild blue yonder. As the seat belt lights went off the few passengers scurried about settling down to a row of seats each, as remote from one another as is possible in such a confined space, along with a mound of the accompanying pillows and blankets.

In due time, the smell of cooked breakfast assailed my nostrils and I happily awaited my second meal of the day… it was after all now several hours since I had woken.  Much to my surprise, no trolley trundled up the aisle with the accompanying polite questions asked and answers given.  No, this time the air hostess casually sauntered up the plane, pausing here and there, where she found a passenger, to offer them a choice of meal, which was duly delivered by hand, piping hot, a few moments later. This really was great customer service with a smile!

The view forward… no people!

Once breakfast was dispensed with, people began really spreading themselves out for a relaxed little nap, under no pressure to ensure they had enough sleep to function on landing, and more than easily made up for the early start. The bar was opened… baskets of snacks offered… entertainment systems switched on and air hostesses settled into the economy class seats at the back of the plane for a comfortable social gathering. This was a flight like no other!

The view aft… no people!

By around 2pm, my sleep deprivation account had been settled and I was happily ensconced in my little world of seats, blankets and pillows, observing all around me.

It’s funny how people manage their time in flight mode and so much more observable (if that’s a word) in the day time.  Or maybe they do exactly the same on any flight, but just under cover of darkness.  Whatever it is, I was fascinated by the activities of the woman sitting at the window across from me.  I don’t know if she had some advance warning that the flight was to be largely empty, or perhaps she just forces her in-flight habits on those around her no matter how much, or little, space everyone has.

Anyway, out of her Mary Poppins-like in-flight rucksack, she proceeded to pull a full-sized pillow and old-fashioned quilted duvet… you know, those ones made up of millions of cut squares of fabric sewn together (after having first been cut apart), to make a pattern.  This she laid out across all 3 seats in the row and proceeded to settle herself down as though in a hotel suite.  Next, she pulled out a Woollies plastic shopping bag, packed full, which she placed at the end of the row of seats, and within easy reach.

Once so ensconced, she proceeded to eat her way up Africa… literally. Packet after packet of sweets, crisps, and other treats, plus tubs of food emerged, only to be shoveled into her mouth in a rhythmic fashion.  I was completely mesmerised.  On and on she went, only to stop when she was offered some other refreshment or food by the air hostess.   Added to this, was her little habit of folding the empty packets and storing them neatly on the table closest to the aisle and conveniently placed for the air hostess to removed periodically.  This was at the furthest point from where she was propped, as though to distance herself from her gluttony and its evidence… the growing pile of discarded plastic.

As this carried on, my chin dropping ever further to my chest in astonishment, I began to get seriously concerned that her body might balloon to the point that she wouldn’t be able to escape the confines of the row of seats, so much did she consume.  Nevertheless, eventually her constant motion stopped, I assume because she had run out of supplies.  This was probably unintentionally fortunate since she did at least manage to extricate herself from her row of seats once the plane had landed.

Landing in a London swathed in grey

And landing came about over a London swathed in cloud and rain, along with an equally uneventful welcome at customs and passport control.  They must have got the message ahead of our arrival that we weren’t worth bothering about.

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