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There’s something about travel that appears to bring out the worst in people.

A busy tube, for example, results in a Lord of the Flies style degradation in basic human decency. As people shove and push with an alarming disregard for the needs of others, it is surely only the intrinsic politeness of the English population that prevents physical violence occurring more often. Were we American for example, a severe delay on the Central Line would presumably result in a quarter of commuters arriving at work in the morning with broken noses. Or a cap in their ass.

Air travel has its moments too. There can be few things more frustrating than arriving late at night into Heathrow, disembarking with the sweet solace of home in your sights, only to be confronted with a 14 mile queue resulting from the airport’s ‘inspired’ decision to have one person manning the passport desk. On Tuesday, I returned from Budapest to be greeted by such a scene, only exacerbated by a blaring alarm above the queue that none of the staff (yes, all three of them) seemed in any rush to fix. In an additional display of impressive chutzpah, one of the impatient passengers decided to enrichen the experience by releasing a fart in the middle of the queue. It wasn’t far from an assault on all five senses.

But enough of that. What struck me, as I wallowed in the eggy haze and waited, was the absurdity of some of the behaviour that I had witnessed on my journey and how we seem to just accept it as part of flying.

For a start, everyone seems to be in some sort of mad rush to get absolutely nowhere. You go to the gate and wait until boarding is announced, whereupon 90% of the passengers leap to their feet and queue up to get on board. Then they stand there, moaning about how slowly the line is moving.

I appreciate that, when travelling on a budget airline, this sleight of foot in joining the queue is the difference between sitting next to a Swedish lingerie model and some sweaty human pork scratching who needs a fork-lift and crowbar to squeeze into his seat, but this phenomenon still occurs on flights where you are assigned a seat number. We are born to queue. It’s that simple.

Likewise, upon landing it seems logical to immediately stand up, doesn’t it? I mean it takes about 15 minutes to unload a plane, so you’re pretty pushed for time to get down your hand luggage. On Tuesday the person in front of me decided to stand up as soon as the plane had touched the runway. I guess he thought he was getting off at the stop before the rest of us or something.

It’s not just the passengers who are responsible for inexplicable decisions on flights. There are a number of things that we are told to do on flights that we just accept without questioning…

… Like electronic equipment. For as long as we can remember, we have diligently disengaged our gadgets for take-off and landing. Has anyone ever really thought about why? Excluding telephones and items that obviously emit radio waves, there is absolutely no reason why we should have to turn off our iPads, Kindles and Game Boys (OK, this is a gripe that I have had for some time).

A Kindle – lethal in the wrong hands…

Indeed most modern devices have “aeroplane mode” settings, making damn sure they are safe for use on… erm… an aeroplane. If electronic gadgets are in any way dangerous, then why on earth are we allowed to use them at all? Shouldn’t we have them confiscated at departures with our lethal quantities of toothpaste? God forbid the day when Al Q’aida get their hands on an iPad.

The pre-flight safety videos are a novel concept in the grand scheme of human behaviour. They always seem to show the passengers calmly adopting brace positions as they plunge to their doom. I’d be intrigued to see a panicking mother fastening her own oxygen mask before tending to her offspring for example. The whole situation is a bit like Economics: It’s very simple to outline what we should do, but there’s a worrying reliance on human beings acting rationally. Something that I am yet to witness in almost any situation. I find it hard to believe that the reality wouldn’t involve everybody going completely bananas or dropping to their knees in repentant prayer.

Don’t forget to blow your whistle as you calmly struggle for your life…

Which brings me to my final observation. Almost every airport in the world has a single multi-faith prayer room. Given that the vast majority of wars or acts of terrorism in the last thousand years have been religiously motivated, it strikes me as naive to pile everyone into a communal place of worship just before they board a plane. If they had communal loos, you’d feel pretty uncomfortable. And it’s not like the rivalry between men and women has ever required UN peace summits.

So next time you go on a plane, have a think about the absurdity that surrounds you. Perhaps highlight to staff the fact that your AA battery powered device is not, in fact, the Large Hadron Collider. Or maybe don’t. Just do what your told. Expunge all this from your mind. As you’re standing up for ten minutes going nowhere on a plane, reassure yourself in this thought: We need this lack of common sense, we find it comforting.

by Harry Harland

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