How my flight descended into chaos mid-air

I’m a seasoned traveller, but this one flight from Spain to Mexico was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

It started out well. I was in the middle of a long, hectic trip, and I was looking forward to an 11-hour uninterrupted veg-out on the plane. I’d packed snacks, I had my own headphones and I’d even looked up the in-flight entertainment and picked my movies ahead of time.

The airline was organised. We filed onto the aircraft so efficiently nobody had time to blink, and it was only as we were taxiing down the runway that any of us had a chance to look around. Something wasn’t right. Something was missing. The murmurs began. My anxiety rose with the plane.

Our flight had been changed to an older aircraft at the last minute, a fact they neglected to mention until we were mid-air, and as we looked around, it became clear that there wasn’t a single screen in sight.

In-flight entertainment has completely changed the way long-haul flights function. Passengers remain seated, eyeballs glued to their screens, only glancing away long enough to choose between the fish and the chicken. Take that away, and you’ve got a riot on your hands.

It started slowly. Passengers began to stand in the aisles, chatting to family members seated in the rows around them. Small children tentatively made friends (and then to not-so-tentatively began a game of tag). Flight attendants were moving too slowly because of the crowds, so people began to go up to the galley to request drinks. Then the EFTPOS machine broke. Five hours in, the galley had become an open-bar. People were standing around chatting and laughing with friends and strangers alike. The younger children were being instructed by the older ones in an increasingly elaborate game of hide and seek. Everyone was a little bit drunk, and it felt like any minute a band was going to play the first few notes to kick this party up a notch.

Looking around at the complete chaos, I felt more comfortable than I had on a flight in a long time. I didn’t feel rude for holding a conversation at a normal volume. There were no stressed parents telling their children to shush and sit still. It felt like a community. There is clearly value in having a quiet, organised flight, and screens make that easy; but in that moment, I did wonder what we had lost to the siren call of in-flight entertainment.

How much do you value in-flight entertainment? Have you ever been in a similar situation? Do you recall the days before in-flight entertainment?

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