Flying economy: Are you in the mile shy club?

Will Milner’s awkward experience needing the bathroom on a plane

The Knowledge

She was clearly exhausted. Since somewhere above Turkey, in fact, she had been persistently snoring, oblivious to the in-air distress she was causing me.

The problem was not the snoring. It was that I was stuck in seat 31J. We were now above Prague and I had spent almost 3,000km wondering how I could get past her and to the aeroplane bathroom with a minimum of fuss.

After judging one another as we took to our disappointing Economy Class seats, we both silently came to the same conclusion – I’m going to have to spend the next seven hours in extreme close quarters with you, but you don’t seem outwardly crazy, overly talkative or repressively large, and considering I am sitting in the cheap seats, that is about as good as I could have expected. So respectful avoidance is our best approach.

Before she drifted off to sleep we’d exchanged just a few words. ‘Excuse me, I think you are sitting on my headphones,’ 31H had said. After much squirming I managed to retrieve them from where they had slipped under my armrest and behind my back. ‘Good job you weren’t wearing them,’ I said, in what I had calculated to be a disarmingly charming manner. A gamble perhaps, but it probably would have been okay if I hadn’t taken a gulp of lemonade seconds before she turned and spoke to me. It was probably my spitting fizzy drink all over my chest that forced her to try and sleep through the flight in the first place. And it was probably the lemonade that made me need the bathroom.

With 31H’s sleeping figure standing, or at least sitting, between me and relief, I tried all of the subtle prompts to wake her up and gain easy exit. Hushed coughs, gentle whisperings, an ‘accidental’ kick to the leg, slightly louder whisperings, a slight tap on the shoulder, shouting an ‘excuse me’ right into her ear… Nothing worked. Fast approaching desperation, there was only one thing for it. I’d have to clamber over her without her knowledge, so I swung one leg over 31H and onto the far armrest. The other stepped up onto the nearest armrest and I was seconds away from stepping to freedom.

It was that exact moment that her eyes popped open and, with faces mere inches apart, she stared at me with a sleepy-eyed terror. Sudden waking is never pleasant. Especially when it is to find somebody you have only just met squatting above you. So once again it was left to me to set 31H’s mind to rest.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen my headphones have you?’ I asked meekly as I sank back into my seat.

Will Milner is our digital editorial director. We think he needs to start flying First Class.

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