My first flight was in 1975. I was six (that very day), had long blond hair and was mistaken for a girl. The whiff of airplane fuel sends me straight back: the excitement of a glimpse of Concorde’s nose through a window, the Stepford stewardesses with rictus grins and rictus hair, the choking cigarette smoke recycled constantly through the cabin to avoid a trail like the Red Arrows but made of cancer.
The modern airport machine still whirrs, with added security theatre and subtracted liquids. We still check in, though Ryanair calls it “baggage drop” and makes you print your own boarding cards at home. We still dutifully submit ourselves to X-rays and metal detectors, with ever-increasing intrusiveness, ceremony and general pointlessness.
Our flight to Pisa, for a week in the Tuscan sun, required us to endure a couple of hours in the company of budget airline Ryanair. No frills indeed: not even a seat pocket, and I guess the constant aural advertising and trolley shopping constituted our in-flight entertainment. They even sold smokeless cigarettes.
But a seat-back sign told me, along with pictographic and implausible escape instructions, that I could make and receive phone calls on the flight. I resisted the temptation, for I would only have texted or tweeted or bellowed “I’M ON THE PLANE” like a gurning poltroon. I nearly did it anyway, like the excited, blond, girlish six-year-old I still clearly am.
A few hours later, after nearly an entire orbit of Pisa, a close encounter with a kerb that may return to haunt us, plus a visit to a Tuscan Tescoalike, we found our villa. It is most acceptable. We may already need to buy more wine.