There is a certain discipline involved in air travel that irks those of us who don’t like being told what to do.
Take everything out of your pockets and put it in the tray. Laptop out of the bag. Just because, all right? Shoes off. And belt (Why? Afraid I’m going to try to hang myself from the scanning doorframe type thing you have to walk through?)
No fluids over a certain volume. And don’t even think about declaring your blood – security people don’t take kindly to jokes.
Once you’re on the plane and have fastened your seatbelt like a good boy (which I’ll admit is only common sense), when they reach a certain altitude you are informed that the seatbelt sign has been switched off, but they would still like you to keep it on, loosened like a tie at a wedding reception.
Turn your phone off, because “it may interfere with the aircraft’s navigation system”. Really? Or are you actually just saving us all from Debbie from McDonald’s, who hasn’t been on a plane before and is so excited she’s got to phone her best friend and give her a running commentary?
“For the benefit of the only person in the world who doesn’t know this – Debbie, are you listening – you can’t smoke in a plane. Even in the toilets, because they’re fitted with smoke detectors. So we’ve got you there too. Heh heh, Meester Bond. Thrrrrp. Eengleesh peeg.”
Then there is the overhead locker question: you’re supposed to put your hand luggage up there, even if there’s no room because the time-conscious veteran passengers have squeezed their entire wardrobe into theirs, to save having to mess about with a big suitcase, and the little carry-on had to be forced in.
On a long flight these people will repeatedly block the aisle while they retrieve books, sweets and things for the children to play with.
Coming in to land, you are informed that the seatbelt sign is back on, so buckle up, buttercup.
There was an extra point to be considered when I travelled on the Caribbean airline LIAT recently: don’t steal anything. They put it something like, “It is an offence to remove equipment and fittings from the aeroplane.”
Furtively I fished the oxygen mask out of my underpants, where it had fitted nicely, like a cricketer’s protective ‘box’, and removed the two seat belts, which I had cunningly disguised, crossed on my chest, as if I was on my way to a fancy dress party as a Mexican bandit.
The sick bag went back in the seat pocket, a bit crumpled but still usable, and I managed to reassemble the folding tray, which had been shoved up my shirt like body armour.
I toyed briefly with the idea of returning the in-flight magazine before remembering that you’re not just allowed but positively encouraged to take that with you.
My wife, on the other hand, had great trouble taking off her clothes, which she had slipped over the entire, unbolted seat, with the aim of waddling away with it to guarantee being able sit down while we waited for the luggage.
There’s a final seatbelt warning, to the effect that you should not undo it until the sign has been switched off and the plane has come to a complete standstill. Me, I’m on my feet before the overhead locker merchants have time to start heaving their treasure chests out and down to block the aisle, as is obviously their calling in life.
This is probably just my imagination, but does anyone else feel that the cabin crew member who says the goodbyes tends to ignore you?
And then it’s the power-walk up ramps and down corridors, looking for the display board that tells you where (but not when) the luggage will be dispensed. If you look closely at these boards, there is an unlit section where you can just make out the words, “But don’t hold your breath.”
What country is this again? What’s the time, in their opinion? What currency do they use and how much of it are you going to need to pay the taxi driver?
Which queue am I supposed to be in? I know there is a sign, but it’s in a foreign language.
Shall I smile and be friendly or just tramp through the gloom and get it over with? Would it be quicker to create a disturbance and get arrested? The police station is probably quite close to my hotel.
The Immigration desks are manned by depressed misanthropes, all trained at the same disused prison camp in Siberia. And there’s the Customs guys, cracking jokes, giving little breakdancing demonstrations and wishing you a nice day.
And the worst thing of all is that you’re going to have to do the same thing all over again in a few days’ time.
A version of this article first appeared in Newsday, Trinidad and Tobago