Last week British security services stopped a horrifying plan to blow up 10 planes over the US. The arrests are a significant victory in the “war against terror”, yet the plotters appear to have succeeded brilliantly in inconveniencing air travellers by boring them stiff on long-haul flights.
Passengers leaving British airports can now bring onboard little more than wallets, keys, passports and medical or sanitary items, stored in a plastic bag. No electronic items are allowed and you can’t bring a book.
The realisation that a plane can be destroyed by using a portable electronic device and an easily disguised liquid has a much more profound effect on air travel than the minor inconvenience of eating with plastic knives.
While passengers will gladly settle for not being blown up, these changes must make long-haul flights tortuous. I can’t imagine a 22-hour flight to Sydney with only the inflight entertainment system to stave off boredom. There are only so many times you can watch Big Momma’s House 2 and Ice Age 2 (a couple of the options on an international flight I caught recently) without going completely barmy.
And I’m not sure whether Qantas’s inflight TV still largely revolves around Everybody Loves Raymond, but let’s just say I don’t. The prospect of being restricted to his company would probably make me seriously consider blowing open the emergency exit door.
Long-haul travellers will have to resort to the kind of time-killing games we used to play on long car trips as children. But playing I spy on a plane gets boring pretty quickly, especially when virtually the only thing you can spy with your little eye in economy class is “seat”.
The games we used to play at school aren’t much help. Brandings and handball aren’t the same with a scrunched-up sick bag, and I suspect that playing bullrush in an aeroplane aisle would constitute some form of terror offence in itself.
A desperate option – to be used only after you’ve made planes out of every available napkin, twiddled your thumbs raw and sorted every single peanut on your tray table in order of length – is to read the inflight magazine.
Even worse, you’ll probably have to re-read it on the way home as well. It’s at that point that I think I’d find myself acknowledging that the terrorists had won.
Still, it’s better to have difficulty killing time than being killed yourself.
Read more of Dominic Knight on the Radar blog at radar.smh.com.au.