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

Simply First Class

25 09 2008

“Quick, check for pyjama smugglers!”    (QANTAS Boeing 747, Perth, Australia)

Upon setting foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong proclaimed “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Earlier, after summiting Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary had uttered the less famous “We knocked the bastard off.” When I recently conquered the most-pointy of pointy-ends and attained the comfiest of comfy seats, my first words from the first class cabin were “…like, awesome.”


Although I had been blessed by business class, first class had remained an elusive Nirvana hidden behind heavy grey curtains. Having enjoyed the luxuries of the second cabin, I would console myself that first class couldn’t possibly be better than the splendours of its less aristocratic neighbour. Much the same way as someone claims that their rusted 1988 Ford Pinto is just as good as a Lamborghini Countach because both get you from A to B, I claimed that first class held no interest.


They’re both lies.


My upgrade had come moments before boarding and “Mr Adventure Blogger” had been directed to the left, through those curtains and into a sumptuous secluded cabin of barely a dozen enormous thrones. The only thing missing was a chocolate fountain and toga-clad serving wenches.  I was divested of my jacket, handed pyjamas and asked if I wanted a drink. Although craving water, in my desperate bid to blend in, I instead requested champagne. My attendant slipped away.


When no one was looking, I buried my trashy war novel in my carry-on and retrieved a more classy freshly-purchased historical biography. I then attempted to look intelligent, important and thoroughly unimpressed.


“I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid we only have Dom Perignon.” My attendant gravely announced upon his return.


I politely stammered that it would do and was handed a tall glass flute of bubbling bliss. My companions had changed into their pyjamas, but I resisted the temptation lest the moment I slipped into something more comfortable, the airline realised the error of their ways and slipped me into something less comfortable: economy.


My seat was more sophisticated than an early NASA spacecraft and more intimidating. I could barely find the seatbelt never mind the reading light or hidden magazine bay, and the thought of trying to master the controls in the massive armrest left me in a cold sweat. Straining my eyes to the very corners of their sockets, I attempted to follow the examples of my nonchalant companions.


Once the door was closed and I felt safe from eviction, I grabbed my jammies and disappeared into the spacious washroom. I slipped out of my clothes, hung them on a hanger, sampled all the hand lotions, aftershaves and towels and grabbed a chocolate truffle on the return to my seat. My clothes were whisked away to a wardrobe and I was handed a very large a la carte menu to select from while my glass was re-filled.


After a fantastic feast served on a large tray that had mysteriously materialised from deep within the recesses of my chair and which was adorned with a crisp white table cloth, cutlery and small silver condiments tray, I was presented with a dessert trolley of staggering variety. My attempt to feign disinterest was under severe siege. I fought to maintain my outward stoicism but the profiteroles, tartlets and ice creams taunted until I nearly lunged like a malnourished Great White after a juicy Ahi. Clearly, this was a standard test to see if I belonged. With shaking fingers and a twitching eye, I denied my bourgeoisie tendencies and selected the smallest of delicate pastries…and emphasising my right of abode, a glass of dessert wine.


With dinner cleared away, an assistant came to make my bed. As I sat on a neighbouring vacant seat, mine was reclined fully flat and prepared with fluffy pillows, blankets and sheets. The lights were dimmed, and I slipped into a 35,000 foot slumber, gently rocked by light turbulence.


After an equally impressive freshly-prepared breakfast, my clothes were returned to me from the wardrobe. When everyone else was distracted, I quietly stuffed my souvenir pyjamas and toiletry bag into my carry-on. The aircraft taxied to the gate, and while the creased, bedraggled, exhausted and smelly masses were held back, Mr Adventure Blogger was thanked for his patronage, wished a safe journey and directed to immigration ahead of the heaving hordes.


It was only when I collected my luggage from the carousel that my fraud was rumbled. As my fellow Firsties gathered their Louis Vuitton luggage, the absence of a gold ‘Priority’ tag on my well-worn nylon number stood out like a ball gown at a Monster Truck race. There was an audible gasp from my former fellow pointy-enders and looks of distinct disdain that I encroached on their royal realm and was actually merely one of… those.  I collected my bag, and with my pyjamas hanging out of my carry-on, slinked away to the airport shuttle and my budget hotel beyond.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

King Of The World

16 09 2008

The Airbus A380 Quasimodo                   (Singapore Airlines, Sydney, Australia)

I confess that I’m an aircraft geek. I know what range and livery mean, get abnormally excited by new things like wing-tip winglets and love listening to the air traffic control communications when flying on United Airlines. I remember the first time I boarded a Boeing 747, never missed an opportunity to ogle Concorde and I’m presently rather unhealthily obsessed with the new Airbus A380 Superjumbo.


The A380 is a marvel of modern technology. It is not only the largest airliner in the world, but required modifications be made to the factories that manufactured and assembled it and to the airports into which it flies. It has two floors and if configured entirely for economy class, could hold more than 800 people. Instead, the first airlines that ordered them have chosen to include bars, bedrooms, lounges and large flat screen televisions. Far removed from sitting with your knees in your nostrils and your elbows in someone else’s, these levels of luxury and opulence harken back to the early days of aviation with airships, Flying Boats or even actual cruise ships.


All of which has led some people to draw parallels between the A380 and Titanic. Not one to partake in such sensationalistic, overly dramatic tabloid-journalism hyperbole, I would never dream of stooping so low as to mention the similarities between the two. The thought of comparing a grand ship that was the cutting edge of maritime technology in 1912, was the largest ocean liner in the world, boasted the finest in luxury accommodation and complete segregation from the other classes for its first class passengers and attracted large crowds wherever it went with a grand aircraft that is the cutting edge of aviation technology in 2008, is the largest airliner in the world, boasts the finest in luxury accommodation and complete segregation from the other classes for its first class passengers and attracts large crowds wherever it flies, is something that would never cross my mind.


Several months ago I saw the A380 with my own eyes. It belonged to Singapore Airlines and was parked on the edge of Sydney airport. At risk of arousing the interest of vigilant security, I suspiciously traipsed around the entire terminal until I found the nearest vantage point, and then ogled it from afar with an obscene enthusiasm almost bordering on voyeurism. I’d seen the photographs, viewed the video and read all the information. I knew its length and its height, the thrust of its enormous engines and its staggering take-off weight, but when I actually saw it in person it still left me in awe.


The A380 is a beast. It is an absolute giant whose engines look the size of nuclear power plant cooling tower chimneys, whose wingspan is more than double the length of Orville Wright’s first flight and whose tail is the height of an 8-story building. This is one serious bit of awe-inspiring machinery and should be more than a match for even the biggest iceberg.


Singapore Airlines and Emirates are already flying the A380 on their longer routes and next month Qantas becomes the third to join that elite club. Although I dream of crossing the Pacific in one of its bedrooms with a fully-flat bed and all the luxuries of a compact 5-star hotel, I would be quite happy to fill an overhead storage bin with shredded newspaper, a bowl of water and a few healthy-teeth biscuits just to be amongst the first to travel in this magnificent new technological marvel and ship of the skies….even if it doesn’t have lifeboats strapped to its sides.


Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan