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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.

Please watch that safety drill

Babies to the left of him, babies to the right of him, was there a man dismayed? Yes. And nary a life jacket or whistle in sight, 30,000ft aloft.

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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VijayTHE NICE LADY was firm. She looked us in the eye. “To attract attention there is also a whistle and a light,” she said. Right. Now why had I never thought of this? That innocent life jacket that lies unsung and unused under your airline seat can save your life. Don’t inflate it immediately though. You know the drill. Wait until you are in a disco, bar, or nightclub and then puff out, light up and tweet away. With that luminescent yellow across your chest, a flashing light and whistle, even in the midst of a head-banging rave you’ll be sensational and pretty easy to spot. Every man over fifty should have one.

Watch those men turn green with envy and flock to you. Okay, they’re bouncers. Run. But women cannot fail to be impressed. Why wake up alone in a strange hotel room, dreaming of Dolly the sheep, when you can wake up in a strange hotel room, dreaming of Dolly the sheep, lying next to rumpled sheets and the alluring curves of an inflatable life jacket? Forget that katzenjammer. Oral inflation is safe, cheap, and good for the lungs. Men of a certain age know what I’m talking about. Dump those black t-shirts and blue denims and go wet your whistle. Travel need not be dull.

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There’s much to learn 30,000ft aloft. In case of sudden depressurisation the oxygen mask will drop down over your head. Your eyes may be popping out a foot in front of your face but, as the voice reassuringly intones, just “place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.” In other words, don’t hyperventilate, roll your eyes, scream and run up and down the aisle doing non-kosher Wile E Coyote stuff. The plane is falling from the sky, your sinus is spread-eagled on the ceiling, and your dentures have shot off to first class. So what? Breathe normally.

It is of course axiomatic that the smaller the woman, the more monstrous her suitcase. There is an inverse proportion at work

FEAR, babies everywherePassengers with heavy baggage take note. It is of course axiomatic that the smaller the woman, the more monstrous her suitcase. There is an inverse proportion at work. Seasoned business travellers having shrunk their impedimenta and possibly their brains – after nuking the grey matter with constant airborne radiation – will attempt to pack everything into a small carry-on. I would carry just a wallet if I could. Little old ladies on the other hand, are hot-wired differently. They drag half of Bulgaria behind them every time they board a flight. Little old ladies eye me helplessly everywhere, but they need a forklift truck not my stringy biceps.

In-flight safety demonstrations employ every trick in the book to get passengers to watch – cartoons, 3D animations, sexy flight attendants – but they all fall short. Travellers need a wake-up call. On Royal Brunei several years back I watched a video with sombre recitations from the Koran followed by subtitles in English wishing everyone a safe journey and adding that we were now in the hands of God. “DOES THIS PLANE HAVE A PILOT?” I was more alert than I could ever recall. It was an excellent flight with top-drawer service and food.

There are other ways to wake passengers up. Have stewardesses in micro-minis point out the emergency exits with their legs. Why hasn't Virgin thought of this? Most men would pay to see that. These are things that could make an airline great.

There are other ways to wake passengers up. Have stewardesses in micro-minis point out the exits with their legs

I travelled on Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City recently. Just as I was about to stretch out, the late passengers arrived and took their seats, to my left, to my right, in front of me and behind me. All of them were young mothers with nursing infants. As the flight took off the babies all roared as one. The wailing was nonstop. A lady next to me jabbed me in the ribs – and passed me her baby, before heading to the toilet. I held a wrinkled mewling six-month-old and wondered who was more alarmed, the tot or I? There is nothing more disconcerting than the certain knowledge that a baby’s bottom in a soiled nappy contains enough WMD to neutralise anything within a 20m radius. I held the infant firm and secured the bottom like a soldier who steps on a weight-sensitive landmine and suddenly freezes.

Other small kids crowded around and peered curiously at me, and at the magazine I was reading, an issue of WIRED with a baby on the cover and the apposite headline: “FEAR”. The nursing mother to my left pointed at the mag and giggled. Clearly I was the child expert.

There’s nothing in safety demonstrations about moments like these. “In the unlikely event a baby lands in your lap, hold fast and breathe normally.” Then we had landed. I helped a little lady heave her bags out of the overhead bin, two large suitcases with wheels. She smiled and scuttled off leaving the bags to me. I followed, dragging Bulgaria behind me. Oh for a life jacket and a whistle.

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