The Plane Ride
Aboard a Malaysian Airlines Flight – “How do you spend 22 plus hours on an airplane and still stay sane” is the question I am often asked when I travel back and forth from Malaysia to the States. My reply: “I have never been sane in my life, so why would this make any difference?”
The journey begins in Kuching, on Air Asia, to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Air Asia is an ultra cheap purveyor that charges for everything but has the lowest fares around. Its slogan “Now Everyone Can Fly” is so true and allows me to travel throughout Southeast Asia, and soon to Sri Lanka and parts of India. It has just been named the best cheap carrier in the world. That’s not the name of the award, but you get the idea.
In Kuala Lumpur, I alight onto a Malaysian Airline jet. I have two choices. I can fly K.L. – Taipei to Los Angeles, or K.L. – Stockholm to New York. The rest of the journey is on an American carrier.
This last time, I took the Stockholm route. My fellow passengers were a stark contrast in the beauty of the human race. Aboard, Asians with their liquid brown eyes, bright smiles, brown or yellow skin and small stature joined Swedes, tall, angular, blue eyes and blond hair. Seeing these two diverse groups together in one place is a sight of splendor beyond belief.
The sequence of events aboard Malaysian Airlines, which has earned the title of the best cabin service in the world, goes something like this: After boarding and before take off, everyone is handed a cool cloth to wipe away the airport grime. When the seat belt sign goes off, juice, water and peanuts are distributed. Next beer comes down the aisle. Headsets are passed out for the monitor that is directly in front of you.
A meal is served about 45 minutes into the flight. One has a choice between an Asian or western dish. Both include appetizer, main course and desert, plus tea, coffee or every soft drink imaginable. Believe it or not, the food is good.
The entertainment system has movies, television programs, news, computer games and just about anything else you could think of. Music for all tastes and languages.
Sometime later, a snack is served and the carts keep coming with water and juice. Two hours before landing, another meal is served followed by a cool cloth.
First class? Business Class? No, this is economy, the cheapest MAS ticket I can find. I usually have to purchase three months in advance and the policy is no refund and no changes. The cost for this trip was $800, return. Not bad for an around the world ticket. And, no, I am not getting paid to write this, nor do I get free tickets for this essay.
The flights usually leave around 10 or 11 at night and one usually curls up in a comfortable chair with a blanket. One can also haul out a copy of War and Peace. You certainly have time to read that tome.
During these flights, one gets to know one’s seatmates quite well. On one leg, I was parked next to a beautiful, single Swedish lady to whom I professed my love on the spot. We both had daughters in their early 20s and compared notes. I felt our souls had joined together. I am not sure what she thought of me especially after I showed her pictures of my favorite apes in the reserve. One hour before landing I proposed marriage. I wept when we parted company.
On the return leg from Stockholm to Kuala Lumpur, I had two men sitting next to me despite my firm requests to the ticket agent that I be seated next to pretty ladies. The gentleman on my right was from Estonia. I learned a lot about his small country and still wonder if they sell deodorant there.
On the other side was a Malaysian student attending the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in physics. He was the nerd type and one cannot have a conversion about the intricacies of quantum mechanics while sitting in an airplane, especially when I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Suffice it to say, he was and is brilliant. He was so excited about seeing his family and kampung friends that I was merely a nuisance in his Doppler train of thought. Get it?
I spoke to many other Swedes on the flight. On the Stockholm-New York leg, they told me they go shopping. It was hard for me to comprehend why someone would fly seven hours across the Atlantic to shop. I asked them if it was that much cheaper than in Sweden when you include the price of the air ticket. They assured it was, especially for name brand and good quality merchandise. Two late teens had skateboards. Many had bags from Victoria’s Secret. I didn’t see any K-Mart or Wal Mart bags anywhere.
On the Stockholm-Kuala Lumpur run, the Swedes were heading for Singapore to attend an International Management Conference. From what I understood, it was an east-meets-west-getting-to-know-you kind of affair.
There is a year break between high school and college in most European countries. Many of the other passengers were young back packers following the custom to travel, seeking adventure. I have met many of these wonderful people in my travels throughout the world.
Most of the Malaysians were returning home for the summer university break. Many hundreds of them are educated in our schools and they pay four times the amount our fellow countrymen pay. I asked what they liked best about America and the usual reply was a resounding “everything!” I asked what they didn’t like, and after some coaching, they admitted the food was terrible.
I have to agree. I had been living in Malaysia and have gotten used to everything being fresh, eating small amounts of meat and consuming large quantities of vegetables, curry and rice. At home, the one thing that surprised me, because I didn’t notice it before, was the huge quantities of potatoes served with each meal.
Now, I am not going lie. I did gorge myself with steak, hamburgers, prime rib, bacon, scrapple, potatoes of every description and the wonderful deserts. But after the first week, I wanted to return to my Asian diet.
Like everything else in life, a 22-hour airplane trek is what you make it. Talking to people, learning customs, falling in love and seeking membership in the elusive mile high club are all part of the journey. Where this voyage will take me I am not sure, but I certainly am having fun traveling to my destinations.
Life is good.