If you can’t go a few minutes without dragging snot down the back of your throat, curling it into a ball with your tongue, and smuggling it in your free sick bag, then you don’t belong on an airplane.
It’s hard to believe I have to write that sentence in a post-pandemic world, but it seems some people still lack basic social awareness and etiquette.
I’ve been on over 100 flights – all economy. I’ve been in the middle seat with babies, had questionable meals, or no meals at all. And yet I have never had a ‘bad’ flying experience until now.
Economy is my go-to airfare, with the basic carry-on-only fare my favorite and I’ve been very lucky with my travels so far. But my love for the cheap tickets has recently been tarnished (pictured here after scoring my own row on a flight from Brazil to Dubai)
I recently flew from Sydney International Airport to Doha’s Hamad International Airport and it was a complete disaster
Last month I sat next to a ‘snot gargle’ from Sydney to Doha and it’s safe to say my good run, and to be fair, relaxed boundaries were stretched and broken.
The first time I heard the man sitting next to me draw mucus down his throat, a wave of nausea washed over me.
Fourteen hours later, as we prepared to land, I didn’t think it could get any worse.
But I was wrong.
Let me start at the beginning, because every moment counts in this story about the worst flight of my travel career.
I was super excited to be in the upper part of the A380 – there’s only a dozen economy rows there, so it seems to run more smoothly.
I was on an overnight flight from Sydney International Airport to Doha’s Hamad International Airport, scheduled to depart at 10pm, so I was eager to get used to it.
As I approached my row I heard a passenger coughing and spluttering and I wondered why someone so clearly unwell would fly.
As the noise grew louder, I looked up to discover it was coming from a man sitting next to my designated seat.
Then I noticed he was also a “man spreader,” with his legs comfortably taking up half the space available on the seats on either side of him.
Call’s long-range ‘no brainers’:
1 – Start your flight the right way: Make sure all your documents are in order. Waiting in line for people to take their passports out of their bags, find their visa emails and find their return ticket is annoying for everyone. Airlines often send an email explaining what you need, so have everything ready before you head to the counter.
2 – Reconsider flying if you don’t feel well: Anyone who has had a cold knows that it can cause excruciating sinus compression. I can’t imagine what being very unwell feels like, but I’ve been on flights where the sick person has to call a doctor halfway through, or spends all the time in the bathroom.
3 – Book the right seat for you: If you’re someone who needs to stretch their legs every 20 minutes, go to the bathroom ten times, or get up for any other reason, book an aisle seat. Waking up on a long-haul flight because your friend in the middle seat or the guy at the window can’t sit still is annoying and guarantees you’ll arrive at your destination exhausted.
4 – Don’t eat like a leprechaun enjoying his first meal: Full table manners are not necessary, but don’t slurp your food, spit in your bowls or growl, and don’t move while you’re eating. It’s great to see someone enjoying their food, but not when they’re beating everyone around.
5 – Don’t Lurk in the Aisle: If you haven’t reserved seats with your friends or family, make peace with the fact that you can’t chat with them all the time. Pooling around Grandma, soaring above her neighbors and encroaching on others’ space when you jump into their aisle to avoid catering carts is rude and annoying.
I put my bag in the overhead compartment, asked him to move his leg so I could sit down, then strapped in for a rough night.
Before we even managed to take off, he’d crawled into the sick bag a dozen times.
The sound was so distressing that I could hear it over my headphones as I tried to lighten my mood with an onboard movie.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a hostess who apologized for not being able to find a free seat for me.
I hadn’t asked, but when I looked around and met the eyes of other passengers, it was clear they were all thinking the same thing – tough times were coming.
A woman whispered “I’m sorry” down the aisle.
To make matters worse, the guy in the front was the kind who likes to sit back. All the way. This usually doesn’t bother me, but it gave me less room to escape from my new friend’s germs on the left.
When food came he didn’t put it back up. Looking around the hut, it became clear that the hosts and hostesses would not ask people to sit up during meals.
I opted for the noodles, as was my neighbor who was overjoyed to be able to remove his mask.
To my horror, he took the opportunity to dig into his nose, at the snot he hadn’t yet managed to clear, before gleefully wiping his offending finger on his pants. He didn’t put the mask back on until we landed.
I tried to ignore it and instead of making a comment I focused on struggling with the tray table that was jammed due to the reclined seat.
Then the guy in the front started shuffling around to get comfortable, sending my meal flying towards the snot gurgle next to me.
I looked up and watched him eat with his face almost in the bowl, sucking in the meal like it was the first in days. He paused only to clear his throat, this time spitting the slime into the empty juice cup, his spit bag safely between his feet.
Each cough came with a delicious spray of saliva, and I promptly forgot about my own hunger as I watched droplets—yes droplets—land on my meal.
Then the farting started.
As the flatulence continued, I had a feeling that he would definitely excuse himself and go to the toilet.
The smell seeped through the entire line, the ‘sorry’ woman from earlier looked like she was going to throw up.
The experience meant I was exhausted on arrival in Doha, paranoid that I would get sick because he coughed all over me for hours, and actually considered buying more expensive tickets in the future
Wave after wave of the poisonous-smelling gas leaked out about every 15 minutes during the 11 hours we were trapped on the plane.
I leaned into the aisle to try and find some space, as the recliner was still taking up space and my neighbor’s crawling knee was slowly sliding back into my territory.
When the captain announced we were landing, my first thought was of the cabin crew and the white paper bag of the 37E.
I was sad that they had to throw away the heavy content, but then something much more disturbing happened.
While we waited for the premier class to get out in front, he neatly folded the top of the white bag three times.
It reminded me of when I worked at McDonald’s and had to do two-and-a-half folds before giving someone their meal.
He then strapped on his mask, put on his bag, and tightened his grip on his bag of loogies, which he took from the plane.
As I walked past him at the airport, I saw him open the bag to spit again, pass a few trash cans, and chances to throw it away to have it on hand to use later.
I told a friend, who joked ‘that wouldn’t have happened in business class’.
They’re right, of course, and while I’ve had plenty of pleasant economy flights, it won’t take me many more snot gurgles or sneaky farters to consider looking for a better ticket.
*Note: It was not the airline’s fault. Sometimes life just gives you a rotten hand