Every time I go to Sri Lanka, something that happens a lot these days, I fly with Sri Lankan Airlines.
Is it because of the fantastic customer service RD?
Is it because of the modern, clean and efficient fleet of aircraft RD?
Is it because they offer such brilliant value for money oh Rhythmic one?
Or is it due to the airline's amazing ability to always take off and land within twenty four hours of the stated take off and landing time?
No, piss off. It's none of those. It's because they are currently the only airline to fly direct from London to Colombo, despite the fact that an almost one hour stop at Male, which adds about two or three hours to the journey, is still strangely called direct.
My need to be highly efficient with my annual leave and maximise my time there it's become advantageous to get there in as short a time as possible. So it's my choice, but there's hardly an extensive menu from which to choose.
Since the divorce, that of Sri Lankan airlines and Emirates rather than my own one, things on the national carrier have got worse, in its weirdly idiosyncratic way. The in flight entertainment system is now a hit and miss affair, it's just stupid to expect one that works and even more stupid to expect anything to be done about a broken one should you encounter such. For most passengers mealtime would be far simpler if the printed menus actually said
"You'll get whatever we've got left"
instead of the delicious sounding descriptions of the meal choices that they tempt us with only to continually disappoint.
There are other gripes I have, but this post wasn't to talk about them, though one of my biggest feelings is one of having nowhere to go, no one to complain to on Sri Lankan, as there seems to be not a soul that actually cares.
I'd like to ask you what you would have done if you'd been faced with the situ I met last week. I was returning to London with A and K, my daughters. If you're good at maths you'd already have worked out that there were three of us.
These days I know that the only way to get the seating arrangement you want, though far from guaranteed, is to go online and reserve it. Waiting until you turn up at the airport to check in is pointless unless you're the type who has outriders and the power to stop Colombo traffic when you nip down to the shops for a new Aston Martin.
So, some weeks ago I'd reserved our seats online, for both the outbound and the return journeys. For the girls I'd booked a window seat with the accompanying aisle seat and for myself the window seat behind them, something we're all happy with. They like to sit together and watch movies and sleep and I get to be close to them, though that's far more for my peace of mind than it is for them.
When we checked in I was told that the seat next to me had been blocked, a good result especially considering the flight was almost full, and I looked forward to some space and some sleep, all aided by my trusty inflatable pillow.
We got on the plane, took our seats, then put them back and sat down. Things were looking good. Then I heard some angry voices, well one actually and it was coming from an Indian woman. I joined in with the rest of the aircraft (we had no choice) and listened to the conversation.
It seemed that she was travelling with her husband and two young kids of about three and seven and they had been allocated seats that weren't all together. The husband was with one child and she was with another one with a considerable distance between each pair. She was protesting that she needed to be seated with both the kids, as they were young and needed to be with their mother, for the whole flight.
I must admit that this somewhat irked me. I was brought up in an environment that had some roles of the sexes but was largely mixed and I've brought my kids up, as has their mother, in a situation in which either parent does what's necessary at the time. When they were young I changed nappies, fed them, stayed up in the night with them and generally did whatever I could.
When the Indian lady was shouting and huffing that both her kids needed to be with her I found that I had sympathy for a situation, that of her kids not getting what they were used to, but I didn't agree with the fundamentals of it.
Then it became apparent that they hadn't reserved any seats, they had just gone to check in and only at that stage asked about getting seats together. I, the smartarse regular Sri Lankan airlines flyer, still felt sympathy but now it was mixed with smugness and annoyance.
The crew were trying to help her, using their best attempts at extrapolating logic to figure out who they could ask to move in order to give the lady what she wanted. K, sitting in front of me, was about fourteen steps ahead of all the adults with her logic and had already worked out the easiest solution. She shared this with me and I told her to keep quiet, as it involved me moving to South Africa or something.
Some minutes elapsed and then the stewardess looked at me. I tried my best to avoid eye contact, something that she seemed to be very good at whenever anyone tried to get her attention later in the flight, but I failed with a level of success that was simply astounding.
"Excuse me sir but would you mind sitting over there and then this lady could have these two seats?"
She pointed to a seat that was a bit of a distance away. It was easily within sight of my kids but would have eliminated any possibility of conversation with them without a journey involving asking several other people to move. As K still suffers from travel sickness I was concerned about this.
Meanwhile in the background the Indian lady was creating merry hell, shouting all sorts of rubbish about splitting up families, telling them at the check in desk and then issuing the ultimate threat, that of never flying with Sri Lankan Airlines again. Surprisingly the crew didn't appear bothered about it.
Fortunately K's earlier comment to me had alerted me to the possibility of being asked to move and I had rehearsed my answer. My thinking, that is to say the answer in my head if it were wholly unedited, would have gone something like this:
"No, fuck off. I reserved my seats months ago and the facts that the lady didn't and that her beliefs/culture/lifestyle choices mean that her husband is incapable of looking after a child for a mere eleven hours or so do not make this my problem. And I don't get to spend as much time with my kids as I'd like to so I treasure times like this anyhow. And I want a window seat, I love this country and like to say goodbye to it when I leave."
Of course, being the polite Englishman when faced with a situation like this, the actual words that came out were:
"Look, I'd like to help the lady, but I reserved the seats a long time ago, so I'd rather not move as I want to be near my kids (pointing a whispy hand in the direction of A and K (whispy because I didn't want them to see or hear and then announce that they would be fine if I moved)) (I like brackets you know)"
I'd figured that my answer, without committing to a firm yes or no, would leave the onus on the stewardess. And genuinely I felt some sympathy for the Indian mother, not to be confused with an Indian mother.
The stewardess looked at me and I could hear her brain working, trying to figure out if I'd agreed to her request or not. It became apparent that she'd taken my retort as a negative one when she sloped off and thanked me. I felt all manly and assertive, like an American or a Sri Lankan in a queue, not British at all, and I found it distinctly uncomfortable. I just managed to suppress my desire to shout after her and tell her that it would be fine, that I'd sit on the wing if it helped, as long as I could have a blanket or something when it got cold.
Guilt was flooding all over me. I was swimming in the stuff. Splitting up families, having two seats to myself, it wasn't the Indian lady's fault that she didn't know to check in online, A and K would be more than happy to sit by themselves, call yourself a drummer. All these things were rushing through my mind. The call yourself a drummer bit wasn't to do with the situation at hand, it just occurs to me at regular intervals anyway, I just thought it's better to tell you the details.
Then I saw it, heading towards me. It was a gangly Indian youth, or perhaps I should say ganguly. Everything about him was floppy. His hair, his limbs, his clothes and even his bumfluff, of which there was a fair amount. He looked as though he'd just dipped his face in the glue vat at the Post It note factory then walked past a barber's shop at the end of a quiet day as they were sweeping the hair onto the pavement at the front.
He brought some things, settled himself in the seat next to me and said something to his mother a few seats away. There was that hint of BO, BO covered up by cheap deodorant. It took some investigation but eventually I confirmed that it was from him, not me. I breathed a sigh of relief, a shallow one.
That was the solution, to move the lad next to me and rearrange things so that the irate Indian lady finally got her three seats together.
As you'll have realised if you've read this far, these things play on me. Was I too selfish or was I just asserting myself to get what I was entitled to? Should I have let the lady have my seat or were my feelings about her attitude towards parental roles getting in the way?
So, my favourite reader.
What would you have done?