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From coffee slides on your lap to rude passengers, the joys of flying can easily be lost in transit

With the festive season upon us, people are busily booking holidays and flying off to exotic destinations. Ergo, flights are chock-a-block. This is where fortitude, courage and in-flight etiquette become the order of the day.

society-lead4I experienced flight trauma first hand during a trip to Mumbai last week. Both flights, to and from, were stuffed to the brim, and I recalled with some dismay reading in the newspapers about Indian airlines joining the global rush to shrink economy seats. To recap, let me tell you that the ‘seat pitch’ (fancy term for legroom) is reportedly shrinking and is now an average of 30 inches, while the seats themselves are less padded and smaller, built solely for the svelte or malnourished: 17 inches across being the norm. Airlines and aircraft makers forget that passengers’ hips aren’t shrinking along with seat dimensions.

So it stands to reason that cramped legs (woe betide tall travellers), knocked knees and elbow fights are commonplace. You don’t so much sit in a seat as get wedged in. Those with longer legs must resign themselves to tucking them somewhere under their chins.
And I have been sideswiped several times by large, overstuffed backpacks of travellers who seemed unaware of the damage they’re wreaking. Ditto the lady in the seat in front who decided to recline without any warning. My knees are still recovering.

All in all, domestic flying has become both cramped and traumatic for those, like myself, who already suffer from a fear of confined spaces. I try and bury myself in a book, providing my neighbour doesn’t snore or drop his head onto my shoulder. As for eating, forget it. For those remotely enthused at the idea, the seat trays provide a challenge: either your coffee slides, emptying itself onto your lap at the first air pocket, or you have to contort to get the fork into your mouth without bumping into the seat in front.

So many people wedged into tiny spaces is a fearsome thing, so I’m never surprised by reports of air rage, which is now fairly commonplace. Frequent flyers of today can only be pitied.

I spoke to etiquette expert Saloni Duggal about her experiences, and tips on coping. Reeling from her own recent long-haul flight trauma, she said she believed the only savior of such situations can be space consciousness.

“Keeping calm, not invading others’ spaces, whether physically or otherwise, being polite and reasonable – all this goes a long way,” she said. This includes, for starters, no staring, pointing, talking loudly on phones or to each other, grabbing the back of the seat in front of you or reclining without warning, stomping on toes, jumping queues, carrying extra-large cabin baggage and then shoving others’ bags away to make room for yours, or being rude to cabin staff. “Be aware you are in a very confined space with many others for a fairly long period. Remember everyone is in a similar situation. Maintain your composure.”
So the next time I am on a flight, I’m going to breathe in and focus on thinking pleasant thoughts. And hope for really, really pleasant neighbours.

-Ruma Singh

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