Day Three of my Utah trip and thanks to jet lag I woke up this morning feeling as fresh as a daisy—at 3.30am. So it looks like I will have time to blog after all. It’s at times like this—when it’s quiet and I’m alone, with no distractions—that writing is easy and enjoyable. I’d like to feel like this all the time, just me and a blank page and a world of possibilities. But, most of the time life gets in the way with all its distractions, to-do lists, and interruptions. I’m not sure who it is I’m trying to convince here, you or me. Anyway, enough of this. It seems like the only topic on which I can always write freely is how hard I find writing.
But that is not today’s subject. Today’s subject is Delta Airlines and their myriad in-flight entertainment options.
My Delta experience was a game of two halves, albeit one half being four times the size of the other. I am referring of course to the two Delta flights it took to get me here (ignoring the 3rd flight because that was SAA).
The first flight was DL201 out of Johannesburg to Atlanta. If you’ve ever flown to the U.S.–from Europe, say,– then you will be familiar with long-haul flights. I call eight hours long haul. Imagine then when you reach the eight-hour point in an Economy seat and then remember with crushing despair that you ‘ve still got another eight and a half hours to go. Yes, this flight is sixteen and a half hours long, and with seats made out of that American Airline ‘Leather’ whose chief properties seem to be to assist your bottom in sweating and sliding about. But fear not! There’s plenty to keep me fed, watered, and entertained. Whilst supping my free drinks and enjoying a quite good airline meal I had the marvel that is Delta On Demand to keep me quiet. The touch screen in front of me was on when I boarded (showing adverts), and the entertainment system sparked into life immediately we’d reached 10,000 feet. I’ve never seen a wider choice of movies. A menu of buttons offered me categories like New Releases, Hollywood Classics, Action & Adventure, Independent, Arabic, Chinese, Disney… I can’t even remember the rest. They had complete trilogies too. I actually contemplated watching The Lord Of The Rings trilogy back to back but then decided against it. You need to be in more comfortable surroundings for a marathon like that. (Aside: I just accidentally typed ‘marathong’ and immediately saw myself at the start of a long line of G-string clad ladies’ bottoms stretching off toward the horizon, donning my trainers with a gritty determined Chariots Of Fire look in my eyes, and warming up my twanging finger). How can you choose LOTR when you have The Matrix trilogy next to it, and the Spiderman trilogy next to that? That’s the trouble with too much choice—choosing gets harder not easier.
In the end I elected to start with Dial M For Murder, one of my favourite Hitchcock’s. I love that almost all of it takes place in one room, and I also love the clipped, precise consonants shot from the mouths of Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, like short bursts of machine gun fire. After that, and dinner, I lay down on my three middle seats I had all to myself and tried to kid myself I was getting some sleep, whereas I was actually obsessing, closed-eyed, about the seatbelt buckle digging into my right hip, my sweaty head, and trying to maintain the illusion that my seatbelt remained fastened over the blanket in this position (it was never going to reach) by draping the long end over my stomach and arranging the blanket to cover where the other end should have been. Finally I gave up and consulted Delta On Demand for a diversion. That diversion came in the form of Machete, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and what a diversion it was! What’s not to like? A huge, longhaired, tattooed Mexican ex-Federale turned outlaw out for revenge against the drug dealer who killed his wife and daughter and left him for dead. I’m not sure which were bigger: the cratered pockmarks on his face or the holes in the plot. But movies like this aren’t about the plot, they’re about knives, guns, fast cars, gory killings and gorgeous women. Two scenes stand out in my memory: the one where Machete—having just learned that an adult human intestine is over 60 ft long—decides to use this bit of trivia to effect his escape from a gang of assassins by opening one of them up with a bone saw, pulling out his guts and using them to abseil out of the window and back in three floors below, and the second scene, which is actually first in chronological order but let’s not be picky, features a naked woman who still manages to carry her mobile phone with her while keeping both hands free—complete the picture yourself. Go see Machete; it’s great fun.
I finally landed in Atlanta with just enough time to speed-walk to the gate where DL1105 was waiting to take me the remaining four hours to Salt Lake City. Ahead of me in the boarding queue were two big burly blokes wearing matching skintight Lycra T shirts in Day-Glo green with the word “RESCUE” in large black letters reading vertically downward across the right breast. I thought no more of it—you see some strange sights at American airports. As I trudged down the aisle I passed The Rescue Boys who were already seated near the front, and found my seat, 17C. Actually I’d found 17B thinking it was 17C, and my actual seat was across the aisle so I had to move. As I sat there people around me were haggling for seat changes: “Would you prefer an aisle seat? Then I could sit next to my wife.” “Would you mind switching? I don’t want my daughter sitting on her own.” Then another guy got on to find one of the switchees sitting in his seat. “Pardon me, I have 18C.” “So do I! Oh, wait, I’m looking at the Salt Lake ticket by mistake.” Wait a minute! This IS the Salt Lake flight! What are you on about woman?! For a moment I broke into a cold sweat thinking I’d got on the wrong plane, but it’s OK, it turned out the woman was stupid. Finally they all sat down and stopped talking (mostly because they had started eating). It was at this point I noticed I was the only man aboard not wearing a baseball cap. I’m a bit self-critical so I immediately saw this as a failing on my part: perhaps they were handing them out at the gate and I wasn’t paying attention? Shortly after takeoff it was made clear to me the difference between Delta long-haul and Delta domestic. The only thing you got for free was Coca Cola and peanuts, everything else had to be paid for, including the movies on Delta On Demand. I refused on principle, but then I read in the magazine that they had Wi-Fi on board. I’d never experienced this before so I fired up my laptop and signed up for a one-flight pass at $12.95 (cheaper on shorter flights). It was actually really good. Reliable, fast, and easy. I was checking my email and Facebook, and even instant messaging with work colleagues (pretending to work but really just showing off, since all my messages were along the lines of: “Hey, I’m IM’ing you at 40,000 feet!”)
So, being online helped the flight pass quickly, along with the other free entertainment: a passenger emergency. No sooner had the flight attendant got to the end of her announcement about a sick passenger at the back of the plane, and was there a Doctor on board?, than The Rescue Boys shot past me in a streak of Day-Glo green that actually blew my hair out of place and forced several male passengers to adjust their baseball caps. What luck! I thought. Or then, perhaps this is a new mandatory requirement on American planes: having two gay-looking paramedics on board along with the plain clothes Marshal. In any case, the day was saved and the passenger survived, after much running up and down the aisles with oxygen cylinders. Who needs Delta On Demand?
I arrived at journey’s end, after 24 hours in the air, tired, disheveled, and probably smelly, but I had been thoroughly entertained.