It is 1:36am on board my flight from Toronto Pearson to London Gatwick. Glumly, and silently, I pathetically think about the refurbished Terminal 3 I passed through a few hours before (it’ll make sense in a moment).
Normally, these flights are a small highlight for my feeble film-obsessed mind. Those heading to the Toronto Film Festival from the UK will no doubt look forward to the movie treats in store. Long-haul flights mean that I can cram in back-to-back viewings of movies I missed at the cinema and snooze when it all becomes a little too tiring. Not this time.
In the 6-hour flight, to and from, via Air Canada and West Jet, they have taken it upon themselves to remove the screens from the head-rests in front. The assumption being that your trusty tablets, phones and laptops will suffice. If you didn’t pack a smart phone, under the exciting prospect that you’d take a break from technology, they’ll rent you a “pre-loaded” tablet for the cost of £6.99. It turns out that the hundreds of pounds spent on the flight didn’t include that. Despite decades of free films to devour for these journeys back in the day, it’s an expense they refuse to fork out for now, in 2016.
I think back to the fully-functional, Terminal-of-the-future back in Toronto. In an area whereby couples can reminisce on their holiday or groups can excite each other at what’s in store, the place is dominated by iPads. Literally, thousands of iPads, plug sockets and card machines litter the modernised dining-come-waiting hall. My wife and I scoffed at, and refused, sitting at a table whereby a shiny screen blocks her face as we chow down on a Tim Horton panini. But now, at 1:52am, I think of those iPads. Rather than being used in planes, where they served a celebrated, practical purpose, they now replace conversation and excitement in the I’ve-already-got-free-wifi airport.
To top it off, unlike Air Canada, my return flight with West Jet seems to have scrapped even those cheap pillows and blankets that can cushion you just enough to nod off. I’m crammed with my back to the toilet (no reclining seat for me then – but of course, the couple in front have maximised their potential) and the subtle stench of someone who has digested their mid-flight “ordered” dinner lingers in the air. I whip out my laptop. I could ‘log on’ to their online internet and try to watch the films available – it says they are free on the site but this is a “deal”. Apparently they too will cost the £6.99 fee in due course. The internet is temperamental though. I’ve already witnessed the frustration one fellow passenger had as the climax of Mad Max: Fury Road was halted by a loading icon (the “pre-loaded” tablets don’t worry about loading, but then of course, nor did the freebie old screens either). My phone struggles with the West Jet app; my Kindle Fire (already shunned by Ultraviolet downloads) refuses to move away from the home screen. Every film requires an “add-on” that seems to be hiding from me. I desperately try again on my laptop: Connected; No Internet. Thanks for that.
There used to be a sense of balance. Whereby a seller has a considered cost for a service while the customer feels they are paying a fair price for it. Now, there is a savvy, arrogance to the seller. F*** you: You’re stuck on a plane so you haven’t got a choice. F*** you: You have to buy a new iPhone entirely because your battery broke. F*** you: You have to buy the same film, for a third time, if you want to watch it on your tablet. None of it makes sense. If the cost was included in the flight price, I’d still have to pay it – I’m not flying for the movies. Buying a new battery for a phone we’d all happily pay to do. and double-dipping? We’ve legitimately bought the film, on DVD/Bluray – a digital format on a disc – , we just aren’t (legally) allowed to break the copyright and transfer the file from the disc to our tablets. Since when has this balance shifted?
Can I sleep? It’s 2am, maybe my heavy eyes is enough to seal them shut for the few hours left. The smug bastard who forked out £6.99 watches Black Mass; the light gleaming through the gap in between the seats, reminding my eyes that yes, you’re on a plane and everything is a distraction. The loudness of the plane makes it difficult enough. Thoughts I’d never considered if I was distracted by a film or if I had a cushion.
But even this bloody flight. Has economy always been this shit-hole of an experience too? This trans-Atlantic flight, each and every one of us paid triple-figure sums for. It’s not a 2-hour fly to Spain, whereby we all know the cost for the cheap tickets is the brief discomfort and life-gamble on board an Easy-Ryan. This is an overnight flight, lasting the length of a day shift, whereby jet lag is only the icing on the cake on arrival.
How have these small mercies become monetised extras. Why not place us all on stone slabs and charge extra if we want a chair? Perhaps hide the seat belts and hand them out alongside a coffee at $10 a head. Technology should make travel easier and digital streaming services can make our selections wider. It seems so petty. I could read a book. But these little extras all add up and they seem to be popping up everywhere. Now at 2.15am, the ocean of a journey I have ahead is comforted by only the bendy headrest to lean upon. Or, I’ll resign myself to not sleeping a wink. To me, it’ll be 4:30am when I land, but to London it’s 9:30am. I’ll be travelling on the train afterwards. Let’s hope there’s no extra cost for a seat to sleep on my way home.