I’m writing this blog from a plane (such is the wonder of technology these days) and the most bizarre thing has happened.
To set the scene, there are five cabins on this aircraft: first, business, premium economy, economy and standing room only. The airline, the greedy bastards, have realised they can do away with seats for the poorest passengers and just cram them in by giving them little straps to hang onto. I’m in premium economy, for I’m on my way to my secret writing island and can endure a modicum of luxury – we get actual red wine instead of white wine with food colouring in it. I feel sorry for the people crammed in at the rear and think it’s an outrage that people get treated like that, but I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.
Anyway, we were halfway across the Atlantic (or the Pacific, doesn’t really matter which) when the captain informed us we had to divert around a rather nasty thunderstorm ahead and would be passing over some island or other. For reasons which weren’t immediately clear, some of the passengers in First got really upset about this.
Later on we discovered it was because they’d embezzled huge amounts of money from the local government and could be arrested if they crossed their sovereign airspace. Like I say, that wasn’t immediately clear at the time and all we knew was a couple of ‘them’ had descended from the dizzy heights of first class and begun pretending they were ‘just like us’ and ‘men of the people’.
Which was weird.
There was one who looked a bit like a novelty rubber frog which had been run over, one who looked a bit like a womble who was carefully styled to appear like he’d been run over and the other was a sort of generic evil-lawyer stereotype who gave the impression if he did get run over it would be beneficial to all of humanity. All three made my skin crawl, but … you know … what they do is none of my business.
Or at least, it wasn’t until they began stirring the pot and getting everyone riled up about air traffic control. It began slowly, but eventually grew in intensity until a good portion of the passengers were really, really upset about the diversion and demanded air traffic control stopped interfering in their journey. The unrest grew so bad that the captain came out to try and explain how things like planes and weather worked, but no one would listen. Or at least not those who’d already listened to the novelty frog, the womble and the lawyer. Apparently everyone was furious about trained professionals doing the complicated jobs they were trained to do.
Which was also weird.
The novelty frog, the womble and the lawyer were particularly successful at riling up the standing passengers who were already hot and bothered and furious at having to stand the whole way. It turns out they had booked seats but had had their tickets changed at the last moment because of some cost cutting measure put in place by the CEO of the airline … who I later discovered was the lawyer-looking mother fucker. Weirdly, instead of blaming him for their woes, on the whispered advice of the first class cronies, they began blaming air traffic control for their aching arms.
Yeah, I know. Weird.
They managed to whip the passengers up into such a fury that eventually the captain offered to hold a vote as to whether or not they’d follow the advice of air traffic control or would take back control of their journey and plough on into the storm regardless. The frog, the womble and the lawyer insisted the storm would be brief (or didn’t actually exist, I’m not sure which, things got a bit confusing and contradictory at that point) and they’d soon be out the other side into the glorious sunshine, free to take whatever route they chose.
The captain, on the other hand, insisted this would not happen and that there was a fifty-fifty chance the storm would bring the plane down and we’d have to ditch in the freezing sea.
The vote was held but between the people who weren’t really paying attention and didn’t vote, the ones who didn’t vote because they found the whole thing ridiculous and the people who weren’t allowed to vote because they’d gone to the toilet at the time, the angry mob won by a narrow margin.
Which was not only weird but surprising.
It turns out the frog, the womble and the lawyer had been very sneaky with the information they’d been giving to people. Instead of loudly announcing what they were doing, they went around whispering it so they could tell different things to different cabins and different demographics. If people were racist, they told them ATC were all people of colour. If they were particularly xenophobic, they told them ATC was entirely staffed by foreigners. If they were (legitimately) complaining about having to stand, they told them ATC had insisted on having fewer seats onboard.
Which is completely nonsensical, why would ATC get involved with an airline’s seating plan?
The weirdest lie though was that ‘no-one in ATC had been interviewed for their position and they were all just on some kind of jolly whilst simultaneously instigating an evil plot to take over the skies’. To be honest, after talking to many of these voters since I’m not sure they all really understood what ATC stands for. I mean one of them told me they were upset about the ATC dictating the navigation of boats, another told me she ‘just wanted to mix things up’ whilst a third (and this honestly happened) voted against ATC because they thought it was unfair to Monaco.
Monaco! What the fuck? We’re nowhere fucking near Monaco.
Anyway, for whatever reason, the vote was taken and the ‘plunge into the storm’ crowd won. The captain, instead of saying ‘Thanks very much for your opinion, I’ll go and see if there’s a clear route through the storm and get back to you’ immediately resigned, sat himself down in first class and got pissed.
There was a bit of a scuffle where for a few horrifying seconds it looked like either the womble or the lawyer were going to try to fly the plane before they pretended they were being gracious and stepped aside to let one of the first officers take command. There are two first officers on board, one (the woman) has now assumed the role of captain whilst the other (the man) just seems to be pooh-poohing everything she says without offering any alternative strategies.
The first officers seemed determined to deliver the will of the passengers by plunging into the storm. Which seemed fair enough until a couple of off-duty and retired pilots came forward and told us all, very clearly and very succinctly that the plane, in all probability, would not survive. They outlined in gruesome detail what would happen to us all if the plane ditched in the middle of the ocean and how quite a lot of us, particularly the ones standing at the back would probably die. Even if we survived the initial ditching, we’d probably starve to death before being rescued.
Which is a lovely thought.
The frog and the lawyer (the womble seems to have disappeared, no idea where he went) insisted this was just Plan: Panic designed to scare us. They pointed out that plenty of planes had flown through clouds before with no problems and that planes flew just fine before ATC was invented.
The experts pointed out that it wasn’t a cloud, it was a thunderstorm and that the skies had changed significantly since the pre-ATC days … but the frog and the lawyer got all the ‘stormers’ chanting ‘storm means storm’ and drowning out any voice of reason.
Those of us who voted to stick with ATC’s plan and go around the potentially life-threatening storm received death threats and mouthfuls of abuse and were told the vote had been taken and there was no changing our minds now we’d found out exactly what going through the storm meant.
Meanwhile the two first officers just kept arguing about the best way to go through the storm. Apparently they’ve been trying to figure out which way will kill the least number of people.
Which is fucking horrific.
‘Why do any of us have to die?’ Asked those of us who voted not to die.
‘Because storm means storm!’ yelled the novelty frog.
Those of us who paid for WiFi access found the application forms for ATC in an attempt to prove they did go through an intense selection process and did know what they were doing … only to be accused of being the posh premium-economy elite by the two guys from first class. This refrain got picked up by the stormers (in both the cabins above and below us) who now seem to think we’re the ones lying to them and are somehow responsible for the whole situation. ‘If you love ATC so much why don’t you just get on a plane which obeys them!’ the stormers yell, seemingly unaware that we had boarded a plane which did exactly that.
Some of the stormers since the vote seem to have changed their mind in light of the new evidence. Some haven’t. Some ATCers (which doesn’t sound so cool as stormers) have changed their minds in the other direction. No one has any idea how many people still want to plunge into the storm and every time someone suggests finding out, the stormers just carry on screaming ‘storm means storm’!
I’ve just seen the frog, the womble and the lawyer strapping on parachutes and heard them arranging for a boat to be waiting for them in the drop zone. A boat big enough to hold three people, even when larger boats were available.
Meanwhile, as we continue on our non-ATC sanctioned heading, the two first officers are still arguing. The woman who’d assumed command keeps offering the same route but calling it different things. ‘We could go left, right, left and skirt the storm. That way we’re not really obeying ATC but not actually going through the storm itself’ she said only for the other FO to refuse on the grounds it didn’t fulfil the will of the passengers.
‘We could go the opposite of right, the opposite of left and then the opposite of right again’ she rebutted, seemingly completely oblivious to that being THE EXACT SAME FUCKING THING. Again, her route was refused without any alternative being proposed.
At this point I began wondering if I needed to start stockpiling the pretzels. I mean, assuming we survive the ditching (total destruction is apparently only 95% certain) then I’d quite like not to starve to death. On the other hand, I don’t really want to go to all the effort of squirrelling away food I don’t need if we give up on the storm-plunging insanity and land safely. Logic tells me to err on the side of caution, but logic’s not the full story for I can be an emotional Phill.
Just recently, with all the wavering between to storm and not to storm both factions of passengers have organised demonstrations. 250 of the ATCers marched on the cockpit to demand a return to sanity.
They were ignored. I think they’ve started a petition now. They seem to be quite excited about it, but at least a fraction of the signees are ‘stormers’ adding fake names to it so they can … oh, who fucking knows?
The novelty frog meanwhile organised a march from the standing cabin to the front which garnered a whole 3 participants. The novelty frog himself didn’t actually join in, of course, he just continued prepping his parachute. I’m not even sure if those 3 are still walking or have given up somewhere around the economy cabin.
So that’s where I am right now: plunging headlong towards a storm which may or may not destroy a plane full of people who may or may not still want to do the plunging, wondering if I should be stuffing my socks with pretzels in case I find myself starving to death while the people with the ability to actually do something about it keep arguing about which one of them should be in charge of a disaster brought about by a handful of corrupt, self-serving wankers who manipulated everyone into voting on something no-one had previously cared about beyond a bit of light grumbling.
I know what you’re thinking, it sounds too fucking bizarre to be true. I wish you were right, but if you’re reading these words then you’re not. This is my life, I’m not dreaming and if no one comes up with a better plan soon then it’s probably all about to get really, really unpleasant.