Snakes On A Plane….for real!

17 04 2009


What time’s the next flight to Melbourne?                       (Python in Amboseli, Kenya)


I love babies and small dogs and have a soft spot for old people. Any façade of stoic, disinterested masculinity evaporates when confronted by a wide-eyed, bubble-blowing, gurgling, bouncing bundle of joy, and I am genuinely more than happy to help any blue-tinted, zimmer-framed, slow-motioned senior reach the pureed apple from the top shelf of the supermarket…but I confess to harbouring a deep resentment towards both while on long flights.


Flying is not only a way of getting from point A to point B, but it’s also a wonderful reprieve from the stresses and strains of cell phones, e-mails and everyday life –even if I lose the feeling in my feet after a couple of hours. It is also a perfect opportunity to read that book I’ve been crawling through for several months or to catch-up on much needed sleep ahead of a busy schedule of meetings or sightseeing. So, woe behold anything that gets between me and a positive aerial experience.


Fortunately however, teething, kicking, flatulent babies and hearing-impaired seniors who bellow every word and pound the back of my seat in an effort to get their entertainment systems working are generally the only annoying things I have ever experienced on any flight – and even that annoyance is tinged with guilt at my own intolerance.


Some passengers on a recent flight in Australia were almost not quite so lucky.  During a two and a half hour flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne, four pythons escaped from their container in the aircraft’s hold and started slithering their way throughout the plane.


Fortunately, none made their way into the cabin – or at least if they did, none were spotted stealing the packets of pretzels or using the paper seat-covers in the toilets. Unfortunately, when their absence was discovered upon arrival, the aircraft had to be pulled from service and searched from nose to tail.


The Stimson’s pythons were each about 6” long, which makes them less threatening than a fully-grown constrictor with cold scaly skin, beady little eyes and a darting tongue…but also means it’s easier for them to climb into your seatback pocket, your bag in the overhead locker, your discarded shoe…or up your trouser leg while you sleep. Luckily, Qantas thought of all that as well, and after a fruitless search, eventually elected to fumigate the plane rather than risk having one of the serpents drop down with an oxygen mask during a safety briefing.


Passengers incovenienced by the delay were said to be understanding when they realised the alternative.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009

The View From The Top

7 04 2009


It’s a long flight to Australia and although the journey is less of an ordeal than at any time since the retirement of down-lined coracles, it can still be a test of endurance.


Airline seats are technical and ergonomic masterpieces while menus are created by master chefs designed to prevent passengers gnawing off straggling limbs. Cabin crew are attentive and merrily distribute peanut-free snacks, but it is the entertainment systems that have seen the biggest improvement.


Whereas once there was one mediocre family-oriented film shown on a small screen at the front of the cabin – with sound channelled through an uncomfortable hissing headset that left ears numb and occasionally discoloured – most airlines now offer personal entertainment systems…even when travelling with the smelly hordes down the back.


These systems not only provide uncut new releases but also TV shows, music channels and even video games…all the comforts of home if you’re accustomed to sitting in Grandpa’s recliner for 15 straight hours.


I had flown through the night, crossed the international dateline and was gazing wistfully at the sparkling sun-soaked Pacific Ocean seven miles below. I had eaten, slept, movied, dozed, gamed, slept, eaten and dozed and now my head was propped against the cold Perspex as I rotated my feet in an effort to stave off DVT – or Economy Class Syndrome: the modern travel equivalent of scurvy – when I spotted something in the water.


At first I thought nothing of it. Although it looked like a line stretched across the ocean, I guessed it was actually just something on the scratched glass. I moved my head but it remained in place. Perhaps it was the sun glinting off the wing and reflecting on my window, or something from inside the cabin bouncing off the overhead bin and across my line of vision. Curiosity piqued, I began to swivel my head like a bobblehead. But still it remained.


Satisfied that it was indeed actually on the water, I began to wonder what it was. This was a seriously long line indeed. Could it be the wake of a ship hidden beneath our wing? Perhaps a massively-long illegal fishing net scooping up half the world’s species? An oil slick? The meeting point of cold and hot waters? All were possible, but this line was arrow-straight – like the Tropic of Capricorn, only drawn on the ocean and not on a map. It was evidently unaffected by wind or tides or any change of course.


By now I was on the edge of my seat, my fingers clutching the window frame, my nose pressed flat against the glass which fogged-up with each excited breath. I strained to stare backwards and the line extended ad infinitum. Forwards it disappeared under the wing. Was I viewing some strange phenomenon? Was it the nautical manifestation of global warming? A top secret array laid by a submarine? A rift in the earth’s seam? A landing strip for UFOs equipped with seaplane floats? A line of migrating sea-lemmings? I was rapt, and it beat anything on my personal entertainment system.


My brain began to hurt with such intense concentration. My heart beat faster in the knowledge that I was viewing something extraordinary.


“Look,” I heard a child’s voice behind me exclaim. “You can see the shadow of our contrail stretching right across the sea!”



Photograph and post by:  Simon Vaughan