My flight home last week left JFK at 9pm and arrived at Heathrow at 9am. We are in the air for barely six hours but still we have the caricature of a full evening. Drinks are served, food comes out and the empty trays collected again, then the lights go down and the blankets go on.
Four hours later up go the lights and they give you a banana muffin for your breakfast. “Good morning, sir”, they say. The conceit at work – that my body will be convinced that it has been through a full night – falls flat. My eyes are red, my skin is like rhino hide and I have, at best, managed an hour of sleep. My fellow passengers suffer too. Eyes are ringed, no one is smiling and we all smell. At no point during this sky-bound purgatory did I think: I know what will make this better, a stand-up shag in those toilets that look like a roomy coffin. Yet that seems to be the aim of the new in-flight “entertainment system” Virgin USA is introducing – fumbles for all.
In a video – “Sir Richard Branson’s Guide to Getting lucky” (bit.ly/17iYVGi) – Ricky B explains that the new set-up allows you to “pinpoint the object of your affection” and woo them by sending them drinks, dinner and messages to their TV screen. Now if Mr or Ms Blogs from Arkansas had started sending me messages I would have been irritated (I was happy in solitude, cringing my way through Django Unchained); if they had interrupted my attempts at sleep with unwanted glasses of chardonnay and a turkey dinner I would have been apoplectic. It isn’t flirting, Richard – it’s called stalking.
Not for 40 years, since National Airlines ran adverts with pictures of smiling stewardess with captions such as: “I’m Jane – fly me to Newark”, have there been such bald hints by an airline about the pleasure of, ahem, flirting at 30,000 feet.
The whole thing, in fact, smacks of a bygone age. No sane person would connect flying with sex these days. Even if you shell out the £10,000 for a transatlantic trip in one of Singapore Airline’s first-class double-bed cabins (the best in the business) you are informed canoodling is strictly prohibited.
If you really must join the mile-high club, Flamingo Air of Cincinnati and Bob Smith of Georgia (they don’t sound a bit seedy, do they?) will oblige you in their “specially equipped” planes, but remember, in a post-9/11 world, misdemeanours, minor or major, are likely to lead to diversions and large policemen with guns, whatever the airline.
Perhaps Branson’s ruse isn’t surprising. If any company was ever misnamed it is Virgin: you only have to look at the TV adverts – strutting stewardesses, pilot with the cad’s smile. If only they would give the faux sexiness a rest and give passengers what they really want: spirits in triple measures and a sleeping tablet in every seat back.