Saturday, April 04, 2009

sensory overload

Well, I've just had easily the most surreal flight of my life. It was enjoyable in a funny way, but distinctly odd and unbelievably loud. The Virgin Atlantic flight I took from London to Boston - expecting a nice, snoozy jaunt - was populated with no less than a hundred and ninety schoolkids, which is every bit as stimulating (noise level = constant) as it is improbable.

Towards the end of the journey - when the kids were seemingly at their most restless - an air hostess came over and gave me a sympathetic smile, which I returned, reasoning that neither of us are getting paid well enough for this. We talked for a bit, and she confirmed that such a high percentage of children on a flight is well out of the ordinary.

I got my first sense of the sheer volume of kids when I arrived at the departure gate at Heathrow, and saw a queue of about forty adolescents standing in line in front of me. I reasoned that I'd walk round the block and come back once they'd gone through passport control. Five minutes later, however, the queue was twice as long and even more youthful. I quickly surmised that, through some cruel trick of fate, several school parties were booked onto the same flight, and watched a small, stoic set of teachers trying in vain to manage the chaos as parties began to intermingle, their curiosity sparked.

It didn't take long to realise, once I boarded the plane, that I'd need to move. I was sat in the middle of a row of four seats, with my three companions a set of youths who made it swiftly clear that they were intent on punching each other and yelling for the entire journey. I negotiated a move to a quieter seat, condemning a pissed-off looking teacher into my place, and found myself sat with a nice-enough pair of boys instead, who I was pleased to overhear telling their peers (who had probably been planning to put chewing gum in my hair, or something) that I was "a nice bloke".

Despite their good nature, they were ridiculously hyperactive and patently unable to sit still for more than half an hour at a time, meaning I had to keep getting up to allow them to slouch past me in search of entertainment or refreshment. A little girl sitting behind us gave me a sparkly smile each time I had to rise, and I recognised for a moment that eagerness to please that marks out the perpetual teacher's pet. The boys, in rare moments of stillness, struggled ineptly with their landing cards, so I helped them out, despairing at their unwillingness to work out the answers to simple questions.

We got the forms sorted in the end, but along the way they made some terrific mistakes. One declared that his country of residence (or 'resistance' as he pronounced it) was 'American', and the other first claimed he lived in the city of 'England' and then that his six-digit date of birth was simply '1996'. They peppered the process with cries of 'Sir! Sir!', sometimes directed at their teacher, and other times, amusingly, at me.

Throughout the ordeal the teachers and cabin staff were the model of restraint. The kids, with a few exceptions, were mostly lovely.

And no, I have NEVER BEEN SO PLEASED to finally land at my destination.

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