20140409 On the road, again

Sitting at home doing all kinds of things – including researching and writing both “Sun Tzu and the Art of Litigation” and “How does that make you feel” as well as other work that kept me locked to my desktop for, in total more than a year, I’ve just been re-introduced to the delights of long distance travel.

I was looking forward to it: I used to spend as much as 200 nights a year away from home, often sleeping on a plane between leaving a meeting at the end of one day and just getting to the next early in the morning.

There was even a plan, just for the hell of it, to present a breakfast briefing in Singapore, an evening briefing in Hong Kong, the next morning a breakfast briefing in London and an evening briefing in New York. It didn’t happen. I think I’m pleased.

Malaysia Airlines is and always has been one of the safest airlines in the world. It’s had some rubbish management decisions over the past few years which have adversely affected the public perception of it but the bottom line is that while the stewardesses aren’t as young or pretty as the Singapore Girls, the service is good and delivered with a smile, even in the back. And an A380 is comfortable.

So, due to a spectacular special offer on economy class tickets, there I was, in the back of a Malaysia Airlines A380, having gone through the airport in decent speed and collected, as has long been a habit, a fresh-cooked Burger King Whopper. The airside BK at KLIA cooks all of its burgers to order, nothing sitting steaming like some other places I won’t enter.

So, sated and carefully chosen seat located, I settled down, put my laptop bag on the empty seat beside me, strapped it in (if the belts are going to hold me, for sure they are going to hold my backpack) and I discovered the first mistake: I hadn’t checked my go-bag properly and I had forgotten that I’d taken out my noise-cancelling headphones. Then my carefully planned and well executed strategy began to unravel.

As far back as I could get so as to be as far away as possible from the repository for babies and young children, I was startled by a cry. There, just four rows ahead, were two babies. Across the aisle were more children. And I didn’t have my clever headphones. The words of The Goon Show’s Eccles came into my head: “everyone’s got to be somewhere.”

With that I consoled myself. At least the woman in the aisle seat a) was too far away to engage me in conversation and b) was apparently comatose. A smiling stewardess came up. Goody, I thought, drinks.

“Hi, I just thought I should tell you that your neighbour is epileptic.”


“She wanted me to tell you so that if she has a problem it doesn’t give you a heart attack.”

Great, no drinks and a stewardess with a sense of humour. Actually, that’s a good thing.

So, I asked, if she starts to flail about, I’ll just open the window and jump out?

It took a fleeting moment for her to see the joke. “No, she said. You can’t do that,” with mock horror.

So, what do I do?

“Press the call button.”

Like that’s going to work: there are only four of you working this section and you’re going to be too busy to pay attention immediately.

“Jump up and down, shout, make a lot of noise,” she laughed. Right, and give myself a heart attack ….

Settled down, smiling because of a pleasant interchange, I watched through the window as the plane pushed back. Here it comes, I thought. My favourite bit, the push as the engines boost and the plane rushes forwards. It started. It stopped. We rolled to a taxiway, then back to the gate, then got off the plane and went back into the airport. In industry parlance, we had “gone tech.”

So, there were all the (cattle class) passengers heading to collect snack vouchers having been told we had to waste four hours but that only two of those would be spent in the terminal. An A380 regurgitates lots of people and the vouchers were useable at only three outlets, all small. One of them, proving that good ideas sometimes go wrong, was Burger King which was overwhelmed in its cook-to-order system. Lucky I’d already had mine !

So, back on the plane…. then out through Heathrow and into the smog that I thought I’d left behind in Kuala Lumpur. Apparently it’s the French exporting their pollution. Whatever, it was shocking to drive through.

But all the way from the airport I was chuckling at one of those anomalies that makes life fun for me.

As passengers are funnelled out of the customs area through the pathetically small duty free shop at LHR T4 (at least it had Chiroc that a friend likes), there’s a waiting area. Drivers hang about with names on boards or, for the poseurs, on tablet computers. Most have a company name and a full passenger name. Then there was the one chap with a piece of white paper and the single word “Mohammed.” Poor chap: when the next flight from the middle east, Pakistan or north Africa lands, he’s going to be over-run with people hoping for a lift!

So, the point of this: I’m presenting “How do I know if I’m suspicious?” in London on 30 April, based on the book. After all of this hassle you’d better be there.

© 2014 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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