Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare


A short flight and a small reminder of the kindness of strangers

Most humans are better than we give them credit for, says Marisa Bate

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By Marisa Bate on

In the final scene of the 11 series of Frasier, our hapless but wonderful hero, Frasier Crane, is on a flight. As he touches down in a new city, he says to the woman next to him, “Wish me luck,” as he begins a new life. For all the adventures we’d watched him have, the biggest one was just beginning.

In my head, all air travel is as ridiculously romanticised and schmaltzy as that scene. Meeting interesting strangers in the seat next to you, heading for new, significant adventures – possibility and promise are just the other side of that small, square window, high above the clouds anything could happen blah blah blah etc etc. The bit of my brain that throbbed with life when watching Dawson’s Creek comes powerfully back into play when I board a flight.

Most of the time.

Funnily enough, sitting on an easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Faro, Portugal, last weekend didn’t come with quite the same wistful butterflies and anticipation. I’d describe it more of a nervous dread of too long in airless cage, far too close to strangers in shorts, despite how cold it is – either on or off the plane. And while every movie scene seems to suggest that the person in the seat next to you will be a perfect travel companion, it's more stag dos talking about golf or hen dos giggly from a morning dose of prosecco or a small, beautiful devil child kicking the back of your chair with a determined regularity. Normally, we’re only ever that close to humans on the Tube or in the gym changing rooms, and we can deal with that for 12 minutes. Two hours of trying not to brush arms with a middle-aged man next to you is actually quite tricky (the manspreading on planes is a #MeToo battleground that has been woefully ignored).

Tensions run high. Before we’d even got on the plane, I was anxiously plotting to make sure our hand luggage wasn’t the unlucky lot going into the hold to deal with the overflow. And before we’d even got to the gate, I had to literally step over a stag dressed as a female air steward on a travelator as his friends wrestled him to the ground like overexcited schoolboys playing rugby in the mud. As we waited to board the plane, a young mother magically strapped her little boy to her front, while her four-year-old daughter decided to push her buggy into the backs of unsuspecting passengers.  

There was just all of us, doing what humans do, spending hard-earned money on a few days in the sunshine because it makes us all feel a bit better about life

So, no, the 8.40am easyJet flight to Faro on Friday morning was not the peaceful, pregnant moment of Frasier Crane’s new life touching down. Yet, it wasn’t the hell I’ve come to expect in stag-and-hen-do season on a budget airline to Europe, either. Waiting to board, a couple said, “When we flew out last month, there were two stags on the flight.” I thought he was going to start complaining. “The atmosphere was electric,” he said, a smile spreading over his face. On the flight, a young woman came to the rescue of the mother of two. A friendship struck up and the children were watched while the mum dared to wee in peace. There were two medical emergencies and, aside from a woman who unashamedly sat up in her seat and gawped, resembling a meerkat, the passengers did what they could to help. The woman on our row laughed when she saw us catch her weeping at episodes of Casualty on her iPad. Of course, things wouldn’t have been right if I didn't exchange grumpy words with a woman who accused us of pushing past her when what we actually did was exit the plane. Let’s not get carried away – some huffy pushing is essential to an easyJet flight, and a Richard Curtis film this was not. 

It was, however, a great British Experience. 70,082,951 people flew EasyJet over 12 months. Like queuing in the post office or dealing with a computer telling you there’s an “unidentified object in bagging area” or watching a train get cancelled at a minute’s notice or being put on hold when trying to contact Virgin, these slightly awful things are kind of the things that make us us. They are punctuation marks of everyday life that the British have always had a way at laughing through and put everyone on a very human, levelled playing field.

And on the flights to and from Portugal, no one was fighting, hurling abuse, tribally entrenched in some pointless war that only exists on a social-media app. There was no mention of gammon or slugs or Blairites or Terfs. There was no godforsaken “deep dive” into a think piece about a think piece. There was just all of us, doing what humans do, spending hard-earned money on a few days in the sunshine because it makes us all feel a bit better about life, making idle chit-chat with the stranger next to you, because we so often forget these days that most humans are so much better than we give them credit for.


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Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare
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Marisa Bate

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