Flying Internationally with a Hangover

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Aug 22nd, 2006
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In Sleepless in Sevilla, I talked about going out drinking all night before catching a morning flight. And that reminded me of another story about flying with a hangover.

Everyone knows that the secret to avoiding a hangover after a long night’s drinking is to take two Advils (ibuprofen) and a glass of water before going to bed. After a particularly lengthy session, you might need to follow-up with another two Advil in the morning or in the middle of the night, as needed.

Advil DispenserArmed with this knowledge, and a big bottle of Advil (or my bubble gum dispenser full of Advil, which I always take with me when I travel), it’s been a long time since I had one of those truly nasty hangovers that I remember from my younger days.

But even with the Advil, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to feel 100% the next day.

The Skimmington Castle in Reigate is a great place to visit the night before a flight to the states. It’s about a 10 quid taxi ride each way from London Gatwick airport, and relatively convenient if you stay at one of the airport hotels. But still, I don’t recommend an early morning flight the next day … noon is a bit more manageable.

Anyway, one morning, after a night on the cider at “the Skim“, I was boarding a British Airways flight back to the US. I was a fairly regular traveller, and I knew the routine.

I made my way to my assigned seat and sat down next to someone that had the worst body odor that I had ever encountered. (Well, maybe it was the second worst. There was another flight from London to Johannesburg on South African Airways where I was seated next to a most malodorous fellow. Back then, they still allowed smoking on those flights … so combine body odor with cigarette smoke on a 12 hour flight … and you can bet the air sickness bags were deployed. It was kind of like the scene of the pie eating contest in “Stand By Me”, except for the fact that none of the vomiting was projectile.)

Let’s see … where was I?

People were still boarding the plane, and I tried to block out the odor, but I couldn’t. (My mind wandered back to that flight to Johannesburg, and I made sure that an ample stock of air sickness bags were at the ready.)

After a few more minutes passed, I knew I had to do something. I got up and walked to the back of the plane. I handed my boarding stub to a flight attendant and said, “I know this is a full flight. But I am sitting next to someone with the worst body odor that I have ever encountered in my life. And I need to find somewhere else to sit. I don’t care if it’s a middle seat, I don’t care where the seat is … next to the toilets has got to be even better than where I’m at.”

The flight attendant told me that indeed the flight was very full, but he would see what he could do. I went back to my seat.

A few minutes later, a different flight attendant approached me and said “Sir, we’ve found another seat for you, if you would still like to relocate.” I quickly grabbed my carry-on and said thank you.

As we walked forward, my hopes rose a bit, thinking maybe it was my lucky day, and I was going to score an upgrade out of the process.

Alas, we stopped in the next section of economy, and the flight attendant pointed me to a row of 3 empty seats in middle section of the plane. She explained, “These seats are reserved as crew rest seats. We will not be using them today. So after take off, if you like, you can pull the arm rests up, stretch out across the seats, and pull this curtain around the seats for some privacy.”

“Thank you,” I managed … as I looked up and pondered the bit about pulling the curtain around the seats. I was well familiar with the trick of finding an empty row of 3 seats (or better yet, 4 on a 747), and putting up the arm rests to lay down and sleep during the flight. I was lucky enough to be on a relatively empty flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver one time when I discovered that secret. And since that time, for overnight flights from the US to Europe, I would always wait until near the last to board, asking the gate agent if they could find me a row of 3 seats to stretch out in during the flight. Even on fuller flights, there would often be an unused row in the back that was available, and my luck was pretty good with this approach. But this curtain bit was a new one to me.

A few more minutes passed, and another flight attendant came up and approached me. I assume this was a more senior flight attendant, probably either the one in charge of this particular cabin, or the cabin services director for the plane. She repeated pretty much the same thing that I had been told before when I was led to these seats. “These seats are reserved as crew rest seats. We will not be using them today. So after take off, if you like, you can pull the arm rests up, stretch out across the seats, and pull this curtain around the seats for some privacy.”

Again, I said “Thank you,” and thought about what a strange experience this was.

A few more minutes pass, and another flight attendant escorts another passenger to my row, and sits him at the other end of my 3 seat block. So much for stretching out and taking a nap today I thought.

Less than a minute later, another flight attendant approaches the chap at the other end of my 3 seat block and tells him, “Sir, I’m sorry, but these are crew rest seats. I know that my colleague told you that you could move here, but we have to keep these seats free. So, you’re going to have to return to your original seat.”

After escorting the other passenger back to his other seat, that flight attendant returns, leans over and tells me “These seats are reserved as crew rest seats. We will not be using them today. So after take off, if you like, you can pull the arm rests up, stretch out across the seats, and pull this curtain around the seats for some privacy.”

“Alright, thanks,” I manage to say out loud. But in my head, I’m starting to wonder if actually I’m the one with the body odor problem. It was a long night on the cider at the Skim, but I had managed a shower that morning … didn’t I?

The flight takes off, and before long, I was moving the seat arm rests up and stretching out across the seats to take a nap. As I lay there, before nodding off, I looked up at the curtain, but thought it was just too weird for me to pull the curtain around my seats. As I drifted in and out of consciousness before falling asleep for a good 5 or 6 hours, at some point I noticed that the curtain had been pulled around the seats for me.

It was a great flight. Thank you British Airways. I wish I could reserve similar flight accomodations for every flight that I take after a night at the Skim.

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