Sunday Salon: Not reading but flying

sundaysalonI have a manager who apparently gets so completely absorbed in her book on an international flight that she doesn’t notice the slow passage of time. I wish my own experiences were of a similar nature.

Every time I get ready for one of these trips, whether its for business or pleasure, I start anticipating all the time I’ll have to do nothing but sit and indulge in something that in the normal course of a day, gets scrunched into the last 30 minutes or so. That dream never really materialises quite the way I imagine. Partly its because there is just so much stuff that distracts me on a flight and makes it hard to concentrate for any length of time when I’m in a packed-to-the-gills economy section.

I open my book before take off but there are constant interruptions via the PA system. Instructions to do X and Y ready for take- off; safety instructions about what to do in the event that we gently on top of a calm ocean instead of some hard tarmac and have to go whooshing gaily down a slide. Then there’s the captain’s welcome and the steward’s welcome and then the second officer to the co pilot adding his words of wisdom, none of which we can actually hear clearly but maybe important. Then of course there are more interruptions with drinks and meals to be served, duty free sold and landing cards despatched (and if you’re on one of the cheap and cheerful holiday flights you’ll get the added joy of being able to lottery cards and bottles of water).

Just when you think you’re in for a moment of peace, the person next to you decides they just have to go to the loo so you have to fumble with the seat belt which by now has managed to twist itself around your headphones cords and your ankles. Then the passenger in front thumps the release button so his seat back is now two inches in front of your nose. And the kid behind thinks its tremendous fun to start kicking the back of your seat.

Two hours have now elapsed and you’re only 30 pages into your book. Actually you’ve read 40 pages but since you keep losing the thread of what you’re reading, you’ve had to double up on some of the pages.

By then its time for the ice-cream to come around or the water. Or there’s been a slight wobble in the stratosphere so now you have to buckle up again.

An hour passes and you get into your book again.

But then the baby three rows down wakes up and realises it hasn’t achieved its daily quota of lung exercise. So makes up for this with double volume. And the baby three rows back thinks a little harmony wouldn’t go amiss so joins in.

Another hour of reading is enjoyed. But then its time for another loo visit by your neighbour. And since we’ve all been starved of calories for some time now, the food and drinks trolleys make a re-appearance. By the time that’s all cleared away, we’re nearly landing so we have to have a weather report and thank you for flying message from the flight deck.

Seven hours of reading time has got shrunk to maybe three or four at most.

Only once on a flight have I ever managed to read a book from cover to cover and that was because a) it was a night flight when everyone went to sleep except me b) I had a whole row to myself so no disturbances from passengers in the next seat.

Knowing this is the reality doesn’t stop me dreaming however, or stacking my carry on bag with way too much reading material.

Anyone have a strategy that has worked for you in these circumstances?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on August 17, 2014, in Sunday Salon and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. i will try to watch one film just to break up the monotony but the choices these days are not to my taste – way too many action/sci fi things. And there are only so many games of Candy Crush I can take

  2. No strategy whatsoever! I’ve given up and watch the movies (of I’m on a plane with those movies in the back of the seat in front of you). I loved your comment that “Two hours have now elapsed and you’re only 30 pages into your book. Actually you’ve read 40 pages but since you keep losing the thread of what you’re reading, you’ve had to double up on some of the pages.” Exactly! So now it’s movies and puzzles, mostly, rather than read.

  3. LOL! I think you’ve nailed it. But you didn’t include another interruption that I’ve experienced. I’m finally sunk in a page or two deeply — then a flying, worrying thought pushes through of the essential item I forgot to pack! After a few minutes of thinking about a work around, I return to the book and re-read the two pages I just go through!!!

    • i usually have my panic moment when I’m travelling to the airport though one time about 30 mins before landing I realised i had left my driving licence at home which would be an issue for getting the car hire and hence getting to my destination

  4. Noise canceling headphones are the trick for me. They don’t stop your seat mate from using the loo, but they make a huge difference in every other way. Only drawback–the ones that really work are expensive.

  5. Karen I totally sympathise! I just got back from a 6 hour layover in Charlotte and a 8,5 hour flight to Paris. I tried to read. I really did but know go. I was exhausted and there was a huge group of French teenagers that wouldn’t stay put. So I wound up watching 12 Years A Slave and The Matrix(already seen this one 4 tiles. IT’s a good escape film). The only thing I think I could actually read on a plane is a magazine or newspaper. 🙁

  6. I can never focus on books while traveling. I usually have a spoonful of cough syrup and go right to sleep. Sleeping on the plane also ensures I have less jet-lag when I reach my destination and am up and roaring to go.

  7. I rarely travel, but ooooh, how I could feel the annoyance! I guess you take what you can get. You can’t really avoid/ignore the food and the announcements, and one person suggested the window seat which would help with seat mate interruption. For noise, earplugs (not headphones) might help—the foam kind for hunting, I believe. You can still hear, but it’s quite muffled. I purchased them in an “outdoor sports” store to wear them when I was young and bartended in a rock bar. LOUD music! lol

    • I never really thought about that quality of earplugs. I’ve tried the ones you can get in the high street pharmacy but they’re not much use (just like sticking cotton wool in your ears) but the gun enthusiasts would likely have something stronger. thanks for that tip

  8. I use stick-in-the-ear headphones that cancel out most noise even if I dont play a book or anything. I’m now of an age whereby travel often puts me to sleep (coach journeys usually, and I’ve been known to sleep through take off on more than one occasion).

    I rarely do flights any more, maybe 2 a year to go on hols. Gone are the years when I’d be doing 50 – 60 short haul flights a year. (the unholy trinity of Dublin — London — Edinburgh, or the Dublin — London — Lisbon commute)

  9. I take few flights these days, but I have recently had occasion to drive long distances ( a couple 12-hour drives and a few shorter 2-4 hour ones in addition to regular 15 minute commutes to town and work.) A few years ago I subscribed to Audible — an online Amazon service of recorded books. For about $15 a month I get one recorded book — and sometimes fill in with other much cheaper ones. I find when I’m listening, time gets completely suspended and I hardly notice it pass. I also sometimes listen in public through earphones — and blocking the sound out puts me in my own world. I am oblivious to distractions.

    • I used Audible regularly for a few years but stopped when the library service started offering a free audio service that you download straight to the iPod. Or at least its supposed to be that easy but it involves much frustration when I can’t get it to work. the choice is also fairly limited so i may go back to audible at some point

  10. hahaha!! I am profoundly Deaf so I just ignore everything. They bring me a paper with the flight instructions but that is about it. I wish I could be more helpful.

  11. I have similar problems with reading on flights. I try to have a book, and ebook and an audio book to break things up. Variety. I never read as much as I think I will. Good luck

    • I’m not sure my little brain can cope with three different books at one time Anita. Two I can manage if they are very different in style and topic….

  12. Two suggestions: noise-canceling headphones with classical music playing and a window seat. Not foolproof, but helpful!

  13. Hilarious and yes, so familiar. Apart from ear plugs there is no way to distract oneself.
    I’ve even browsed the boring flight magazines instead. However I did, years ago, manage to enjoy a novel I’d mistakenly thought to be pap when my husband handed to it me as a gift:
    The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler. I’ve read most of his work since – with much appreciation, and even met him at at an Edinburgh Book Festival event. His most recent The Night Watchman is on my uppermost TBR pile.

  14. I have a similar problem on my daily commute to work which involves either 2 or 3 train changes (sometimes more if I’m really unlucky) and countless distractions from other passengers from the toddler having a full-blown tantrum to the City banker loudly yakking away on his iPhone! I’m getting better at blocking out background noise but there is a limit to what I can tolerate.

    • I think that situation is significantly more challenging.i don’t do it often but the last time I was on the London underground, I was astonished at how some people can stand with a book in hand in a swaying, completely full carriage with someone else’s bag or elbow stuck up your nose. Sheer hell

  15. LOVED this post, Karen! It hits so close home for me, which is why I no longer read while on flights. It made me smile, laugh and remember all the things that you have mentioned.

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