Sitting on a long haul flight, my mind boggles at how I seem to be the only one wide awake. Gentle snores waft down the aisle as I take in my surroundings. How is it possible for everyone to seem so restful when I’m sitting bolt-upright with another persons’ elbow in my ribs and my head at an angle that makes me wonder whether I have actually been decapitated? A collection of miniature screens all flicker in the dark, the luminescence burning my delicate corneas and a baby’s incessant ear-piercing screams somewhere in the vicinity help a fledgling headache develop into something more ominous. Someone close-by farts.
It really is as depressing as it sounds…
Teleportation is the answer
Travelling a lot for work, I’ve made countless trips to attend various workshops, trade fairs and meetings. Each time, my living-nightmare was an opportunity to trial a new salvation promising gimmick. Ear-plugs, a blow-up neck pillow, an eye-mask – all the tried and trusted methods provided limited success. I then happened upon the closest anyone will ever get to teleportation. Sleeping pills!
Turning nightmares into dreams
In order to teleport, I simply popped a pill as the dinner service commenced. That way, by the time I’d eaten and my tray had been cleared away, I was being gently lulled into something as close to a restful sleep as one can get while sitting with your head tilting forward at a 90-degree angle. The flight was just long enough for the effects of the pill to wear off by the time breakfast was served. I could disembark without the splitting headache and bloodshot eyes I’d usually have from spending the entire journey playing insomnia induced mahjong on the in-flight entertainment system.
Honestly – what could go wrong?
On this particular fateful trip, I had amassed 90kg worth of brochures at a trade fair with which I needed to return to South Africa. After checking in, I boarded the plane and immediately popped my magic pill.
But something was amiss. The pre-flight checks were taking longer than usual and the cabin crew were scuttling up and down the aisles with looks of genuine concern plastered on their faces. The meal service began while we were still waiting for take-off and I remember hearing someone mutter “nothing good can come of this”.
The flight had gone technical. Something was wrong with one of the wheels and a new part needed to be flown out from somewhere for it to be replaced. By the time we had been herded off the plane again, the pill had started to take effect. As I collected them from the carousel, it felt like each of the 45kg bags had not only ripped my shoulders from their sockets but had then promptly been attached to my eyelids.
Onto the bus we got, ready to be shuttled to a waiting hotel. By now my head was lolling dangerously from side-to-side, back-to-front. Whose stupid idea was it to take a sleeping pill?
After getting our room keys we were left to our own devices with no knowledge of when we were required to return to the lobby, or even when the flight would be rescheduled for. I forced myself to stay awake the entire night, ever fearful that if I fell asleep I would miss the call to return to the airport. The every-30-minute call to reception to check if there was an update was interrupted only by the phone call to my mother to do what I refer to as “the anxiety transfer”.
Say “no” to drugs
The flight was delayed by a full 24-hours. Hungry and irritable, the entire flight-full of people returned to the airport to repeat the previous day’s procedure. It was a massive relief when the plane finally taxied towards the runway. I discovered that sheer exhaustion works just as well as self-medicating.
I did not take a sleeping pill that night, nor have I taken one since. Instead I have reverted to eyeball busting marathons of mahjong. If I can’t sleep on the plane, I might as well try and beat my high score.
Do you have a hack for sleeping on a plane? Share your secrets in the comment section.