Remind me to never fly overnight again. It’s torture. One has to sleep, or at least try to. After all, when you arrive, you have to deal with all sorts of inconveniences like a foreign language, different money, and finding transport, all while dealing with a vast change of temperature and a different time zone. Add sleep deprivation to that and you’re faced with a hell of a first day at your destination.
But how to sleep in a chair that is so close to the one in front that you can’t stretch your legs, so close to the one next to it that your elbows must remain tucked at your sides, and reclines so little that you’re still basically upright. Can you sleep sitting up? Some people can, but not me.
To make it worse, on this Air Asia flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, my seat happened to be next to a wall without a window. It curved inwards more than the rest of the plane, and I had a wall at my back as well. If I hadn’t been able to school my mind, I could have easily succumbed to claustrophobia.
Some people are small enough to curl up, apparently reasonably comfortably, but not me. The limbs of my five foot, six and a half inch frame have nowhere to go. I’m loose limbed, so I can tuck my knees up and rest my head on them, but only for five minutes (if that) before my body screams and I have to move again. No matter how I arrange myself, the armrest always digs in somewhere, and the longer I remain on one position, the more it digs in.
I look at those who close their eyes and barely move for a nine hour flight, like the little Asian girl beside me, and wonder how they do it. Their sleeping appears effortless, but if I manage any sleep it’s only a few minutes at a time. I simply can’t get comfortable enough to go to sleep. But I must try.
My eyes are too heavy to read, and my mind is so desperate for sleep that I have no desire to do anything else, so I sit trying to sleep and failing. My limbs yearn to stretch and to move around, but the person next to me is sleeping. I’m trapped between a wall and a person, shackled to this tiny chair.
My legs become restless. It feels as ig thousands of insects are crawling just beneath the skin. My muscles contract and release painfully. I simply cannot remain still; to do so causes a discomfort that, though not pain in the normal sense, is so intense that it is painful in its own way.
When I can’t stand it anymore, I climb over my sleeping neighbour and marvel when she doesn’t stir. My body smiles with gratitude as I give it freedom to walk and to stretch. I shake my limbs and crack my back. It’s such a relief. But I’m so tired, I must sleep, so I return to my prison and the torture begins again.
I’m not joking; it really is torture. It doesn’t seem to be such a problem for others. It’s just the way my body is.
I like visiting other countries, but I hate flying. Two hours I can manage without too much pain, but more than that and I need a really good reason to step that far outside my comfort zone.