Travelling Cattle Class on a Budget Airline

The best laid plans often go awry, especially when travelling economy class on a budget airline. Just go with the awful flow is my advice. This was aptly demonstrated recently when Mr Tranquillo studied the seating layout of the plane a day before departure and re- assigned our seats, so that we would be surrounded by fields of empty space, rows to colonise, restful rows on which to loll and spread. Foolish man. He hadn’t factored in those travellers who had left their seat allocation to chance at check in. I am now left wondering how peaceful our original chosen seats might have been.

The Melbourne to Thailand flight, on a good day, takes just over 8 hours, not exactly a short trip.  Behind us we have a mother with two small children who enjoy the healthy pastime of kicking of the seat in front of them – ours. In front we have three women who enjoy a few cans of Bourbon and Coke, their seats fully reclined by 3.30 pm, shortly after take off, and who are partial to random bursts of shrillness. Their partners have taken up the standing room between the toilet and the plane door exit: they are enjoying their own beer festival for four hours. I am so pleased we not sitting in that leg spacious area.

Being prepared, we look forward to our longish flight with one pre-ordered meal. It arrives 40 minutes after take off, at 3.45 pm. I ask politely if it could stay warm somewhere until a more reasonable eating hour, such as, say 6 pm. No, that was not possible. OK, could the meal be kept somewhere until we are ready to eat it, warm or cold. No, he couldn’t do that either. I then suggested curtly that he could stick the meal in the rubbish bin (I promise I did not preface the word ‘bin’ with any expletive beginning with the letter F ). Mr Tranquillo, known for his inner calm and reasonable approach in the most annoying situations, intervened and told the young male attendant that the food would stay warm, and that we would like it in two hours. End of story. How did he do that? Flight attendant whisperer?

The kicking from the rear continues with a persistent rhythm, thumpthumpthumpety thump_thumpthump_THUMP, directed at my lower back. I ask the father could he tell ‘the child’ to stop. Not long after, Mr Tranquillo, who is being kicked constantly by the other little darling, half stands, turns and firmly addresses the mother with the same request, a distinct edge to his voice. I smile inwardly. Not so tranquillo after all! The kids finally stop. They take up singing and loud games with their Mother, which is lovely, really, except that the din drowns out all sound from our earphones.

We finally ask for our meal at 6 pm: the packet is still super hot, and the ice cream melted. I don’t mind melted ice cream, although the exploding affect, when removing the puffed up foil lid, produced a sticky foamy spray over me, my clothes and the back of the seat- but not on the kids behind, who by this stage, had found a way to pull my hair as they climb the back of the seat.

Note. If you don’t pay $24 for a pre-ordered meal, you can eat a $10 meal any time at all: just press the button and along comes a bit of industrial fodder from the Pie Face company, a slab of ham and pineapple thing vaguely resembling a pizza, or a vacuum packed salad that purports to have health properties.

We resort to wine, a saviour in situations like these. There is an attractive picture of a barrique on the back of the food brochure where the words ‘cellar selection’ are mentioned. The choices are- Sauvignon blanc or Shiraz. Hmm great, how much do I dislike Sauvignon blanc, let me count the ways. The cheap red slides down well enough although the desired effect, relaxation, is replaced by headache. No water bottle is delivered at any stage throughout the flight: a purchased meal is accompanied by a miniature foil topped container of water, such fun to open. I notice that the Bourbon women are now drinking water from tiny paper cups from the toilet and I consider doing the same.

I try to meditate, to think more calmly, to recall a few Dalai Lama quotes of the day. “The ultimate source of comfort is within ourselves”, he advises on his Facebook page, but it’s not working and besides, I am sure HH travels business class. I watch ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ or rather, I see it mimed: fortunately Hardy’s story hasn’t changed in all those years of remakes, the cad is deliciously rakish and the good guy, in the end, wins.

Me doing my Munch Scream Face again.
Me doing my Edvard Munch Scream Face again.

My advice for travelling on budget airlines?

  • Don’t plan anything and consider taking calming or sleep-producing substances.
  • Buy noise reducing headphones which won’t work in the Jetstar sockets unless you get a double pronged plug attachment that happens to match.
  • Have your own media loaded onto your own device using your top quality earphones.
  • Take an empty large plastic bottle in your hand luggage. Filtered water bottle filling stations can be found in various spots throughout Melbourne’s international airport.
  • Prior to departure buy your own food for the flight, such as packed sushi, mixed nuts, biscuits and cheese, or home made slices and sandwiches.
  • If travelling as a couple, choose an aisle seat and a window seat. Very rarely is the centre seat filled.
  • If you have paid for Jetstar’s media ($10), note that this prepayment will be loaded into your allocated seat. If you move, you may lose your media.