I’m not talking about the usual colicky infant (at least one guaranteed on every flight, or your money back), nor the chatty, close-talking seat mate whose entire diet, from the time he was first able to digest solid food, has consisted solely of raw onions and three-day old fish. I’m not even referring to the inconsiderate oaf who reclines his seat so far into your lap that you’re forced to eat your dinner off a tray on his forehead.
No. This was one of the biggies, one of those life-flashing-before-your-eyes moments that makes you wish you had put down your magazine, wrenched the ear phones blasting LMFAO’s “Sorry for Party Rocking” from your waxy canals, and listened to the safety announcements featuring cartoon characters demonstrating the technological complexities and mind-boggling intricacies of the aircraft, such as how a seat belt is not only fastened, but…whoa, duuuuuude!…unfastened. (One can only imagine that if Charles “Survival of the Fittest” Darwin had been called upon to compose those scripts, they would be considerably more concise).
In short (or rather, in long-winded, round-the-houses-on-a-rusty-bicycle-with-a-slowly-deflating-tire essence), the oxygen masks deployed…about three hours into a trans-Atlantic flight to London, over the dark, fathomless depths of the ocean.
Now, if you’ve ever wondered what you might do in the event of an emergency, I can only tell you this. If you’re me (which I am), and you’re in the loo (which I was), you freeze with your hands under the tap as the words “Don’t Panic” flash in big friendly letters through your mind.
At least, that was one of the thoughts bumbling around my brain like the Three Stooges in bumper cars. The others, in roughly chronological order, were:
1. “Well, the plane doesn’t seem to be plummeting. That’s a bonus.”
2. “Um…did I do that?”
You see, I’m not exactly known for good toilet karma. I have, on more than one occasion, accidentally pulled the red emergency cord in various public and hotel bathrooms, when I actually meant to flush the toilet or turn off the light. (To date, this has never resulted in the arrival of the fire brigade…or anyone else, for that matter…which is both a huge relief and also vaguely worrying).
Furthermore, when confronted with those high-tech Japanese toilets, the kind that look like La-Z-Boy recliners replete with seat warmers, spray nozzles and more buttons, bells and whistles than it ever took to operate the space shuttle, I’m generally reduced to tears. Give me a nice leafy bush or an oversized Solo cup over Robo-Loo any day.
3. “Huh. There are two oxygen masks in the bathroom.”
That’s right, my friends. If you’d opted to join the Mile High club with an airborne buddy, this transatlantic flight ensured your needs would be catered for “in the unlikely event of a change in cabin pressure.” Unless, of course, you got greedy and decided to make it a threesome.
(Don’t expect to always get so lucky in the loo, however, as the FAA has reportedly removed all oxygen masks from toilets on US flights to prevent anyone from tampering with them. So whatever you do in there, you better make it a quickie).
With those considerations out of the way, the realization that perhaps I should actually put on a mask myself finally leapfrogged to the forefront of my cortex.
Just as I was reaching for it, a voice boomed over the tannoy. It was the captain himself, sounding decidedly abashed.
“Er….sorry folks. I pushed the wrong button.” Yep. Apparently, he meant to provide oxygen for one passenger but inadvertently released them all.
At this point, I emerged from the loo and stepped into a scene out of Airplane. Bemused passengers were standing around in the aisles, snapping pictures of oxygen masks that dangled like jellyfish from the overhead compartments. (I, for one, was certainly not going to pass up this epic opportunity for a new Facebook profile photo).
But the oxygen-dispensing feedbags weren’t the only things the captain accidentally deployed. He also set off a chain reaction of general camaraderie. Strangers who wouldn’t look one another in the eye before were now smiling and chatting, laughing nervously in the way that you do when you’ve bonded over being scared witless at 30,000 feet.
It certainly put all my petty concerns into perspective.
Sure, the masks hung like used IV drips for the rest of the flight, but at least we knew they were there if we needed them.
And yes, the in-flight entertainment system went dark for about an hour just as some of the films were reaching their climax.
But when, moments before, you faced down what might, in the mildest of terms, be described as a real cheek-clencher, the last ten minutes of Maleficent isn’t the happy ending that concerns you most.
Maybe next time, when someone leans their chair back into my birth canal, I’ll take a kinder view. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll even give them a head massage. Or at least I won’t knee their seat back with quite the same vengeance.
Why You Should Marry the Girl in the Middle Seat: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=127
More on the FAA removal of oxygen masks in toilets on US flights: http://m.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704261504576205340082506086?mobile=y