S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: Flying fish

image S Sorrensen

Sydney. Sunday, 2pm

I reckon plane design has reached maximum seating. My knees are touching the seat in front of me and my elbow is touching the elbow of the bloke next to me. It would be impossible to add even one more seat.

My head leans against the window. I see Sydney swivel under the port wing.

Once, I saw a photograph of passengers aboard a plane in the 60s. There was heaps of legroom. The man, wearing fedora and suit, had enough room to cross his trousered legs. The woman had her pink hand luggage in front of her and still had ample room for her stockinged legs. Holding a compact in front of her happy face, her eyes were turned to him. He smoked a cigarette and was smiling at her.

Those were the days. Sure, they didn’t have in-flight movies, but they had a meal on a plate with proper cutlery. And they weren’t packed like sardines. They weren’t fish in a can; they were people in a plane. They were humans. The plane was for them; they were not for the plane.

The bloke beside me moves. His elbow pushes against mine. I remove mine from the shared armrest and lean closer to the window. Now his leg pushes against mine.

‘Sorry,’ he says, as he reaches down into a small pack on the floor under his feet, his face pressed against the seat in front.

‘That’s okay,’ I say. But it’s not really. It’s bloody uncomfortable.

He pulls out a magazine from the pack. On its cover is a bloke in a baseball cap holding a big fish. The fish is dead, or dying, and the man is smiling.

I look back out the window. The ocean, scratched with white waves, sparkles below me. The oceans are losing their fish due to commercial fishing and pollution. That’s business. Fish are being replaced by plastic.

A touch on my arm. It’s the fisher bloke. He indicates a flight attendant standing in the aisle. She hands me a muffin in a plastic bag.

The plane jerks and rocks. My sphincter tenses. Oh dear. Turbulence. The muffin falls to ground and rolls under the seat in front.

I’m scared – even though I know this plane is designed for maximum safety. Well, that’s what the airline company tells me. And the government says so too. They wouldn’t lie, right?

I take a deep breath. But, what if plane design is now more about profit than people? Everybloodything else is. Maybe it’s bad business to build past a certain level of safety. I’m sure there’s an algorithm, an allowable level of plane accidents per capital investment. If allowing the ocean and its reef to die is an acceptable part of economic management, then what about plane passengers?

Another thump, shudder. I see the earphoned heads in front of me sway this way and that. An alarm sounds and the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign flashes.

Economics used to be the language of shopkeepers, now it’s the global ideology.

I reckon you could add more seats to this plane. You could have seats that start with less legroom than now – for really small people – and incrementally increase the legroom up to what we have now – for big people. That way you could add more seats. That way the CEO and shareholders could make more money. That way you grow the economy.

Or maybe you could have standing room at the back. Yeah, die on your feet…

The ocean disappears behind cloud as we rise above the buffeting winds and leave the turbulence behind.

The muffin rolls back from under the seat in front.

The fisher bloke turns to more photos of happy men with dead fish.

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