How to organise a really bad time

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The Independent Travel
IN HIS Inferno, Dante says that those who have committed carnal sin will, for all eternity, be tossed about by the most furious winds in the Second Circle of Hell. Much the same effect can be experienced these days by travelling economy class to some far-flung destination.

Long-haul air travel is without doubt the most organised way of having a bad time ever devised.

My particular experience last week with Aerolineas Argentinas on a flight from London to Buenos Aires should not be construed as criticism of this particular airline (although since it was privatised it has been vehemently criticised by many Argentinians). My comments are more of a general overview of the horrors of delivering yourself into the hands of any airline.

This journey satisfied the major requirements of a classic bad trip.

1. Any truly infernal flight must last at least 12 hours. You will travel economy (packed to bursting), in the seat with the least leg-room, next to a small child who spends the entire journey either screaming or poking you in the privates with a model of Bart Simpson on a skateboard.

2. The plane will take off at least an hour late. It should have at least one stop en route, (but preferably two: we stopped at Paris and Madrid), where you will accumulate further inexplicable delays.

3. For further torment, these extra delays will force yet another fuel stop. We put down in northern Argentina, adding a further hour to the flight. A journey that should have taken 16 hours ended up taking 20.

4. Other tricks that Dante might have admired included igoring my request for a vegetarian meal. (Argentina, it should be said, does not accord the Vegetarian Society much standing. Argentinians would probably have a meat dessert if somebody could devise a palatable beef crumble with custard.)

The final torture was a bad Chevy Chase in-flight movie (a tautology - Chevy Chase has never made a good film).

But it was on a domestic flight in Argentina that Aerolineas Argentinas really pulled out all the stops. Travelling from Iguazu to Buenos Aires, after a reasonable breakfast - this time they failed to squeeze a wedge of beef into the croissant - a flight attendant came through the plane distributing cards which provided comprehensive information on cholera, present in almost all Latin American countries, the note said. It went on: 'It is an acute infectious intestinal disease, with a sudden onset, characterised by aqueous and profuse diarrhoea and vomiting.'

Digesting this information after ingesting the meal was a cheerless moment. Two days later, when I succummed to a sudden dose of the squits I feared the worst.

Some comfort was offered by the invaluable South American Handbook, which says that 'practically nobody' escapes intestinal upsets during a visit to Latin America. 'Seek medical advice if there is no improvement after three days.'

After three days I think I've ruled out cholera - but I'm still mulling over the possibility of dysentery. And, according to the Buenos Aires Herald the Argentinian capital is in the grip of an outbreak of meningitis.

The one real pleasure of long-haul travel is that it makes home look so appealing.

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