Generally, I absolutely adore flying.
Even in these days of heightened security (fine with me, these days some people have silly ideas, and if turning up half an hour earlier helps stop them, I don't consider that an inconvenience at all). I still consider it a luxury. The feeling of being in-transit and no-where at all. Partaking in the miracle of human flight. Anticipation to meet the destination, familiar or otherwise. It's a wonderful thing, and one that I'm lucky enough to do very often. More often than not, I carry a guitar, a rather expensive guitar, on the flight with me. More often than not, there is NO problem in doing so. Perhaps I am practiced at flying, and see the worst in others that aren't. Perhaps in my old age I am growing increasingly intolerant of rudeness and fools.
It was an ordinary flight, from Zurich, Switzerland to Madrid, Spain. Lots of European holiday makers, a few businessmen. Also the lead singer from The Darkness. He was a lovely chap, and we talked about watches for a second while we waited to board after he spotted my Dad's old Rolex on my wrist. I never go anywhere without it. I found my seat next to the aisle. I popped my guitar in the locker above me, placed my book in the seat pocket and settled in, a steady stream of folks still bumbling down the plane. It's a busy flight, but certainly not full.
Que German tourist and his family. His nationality really has little bearing on the situation, only that I want you to hear his accent in your head while you read this. For a family of three they carry little baggage. Still, I hear him huffing and umming as he scrambles for a place to put the bags. There is plenty of room all around him. Stressed and fraught people don't see though. He looks at me, says something in German. I recognize "Guitarren". I muster up my best reply: "Es tut mir leid, sprichts du Englisch?" It works.
"Is this your guitar?" He replies
"Ah. You see. I have a problem. I cannot fit my bags."
"Well, there is plenty of room behind you, and under your seats"
"But your guitar takes up a lot of room," He doesn't really hear me.
"I suppose a little more than a suitcase yes, but less than two. It is my only piece of luggage". I'm starting to get defensive, unsure of where this conversation is going.
He looks at me, more than a little frustrated. Sternly he says to me:
"I cannot fit my bags up here. What can we do about this?"
I lose it.
"Sir. What on earth would you like me to do? Your bags are no more important than anyone elses. It is first come, first served. I am not about to move my expensive guitar, which I am more than entitled to carry on, while there is plenty of room for your baggage elsewhere in your immediate surroundings"
I turn my head, pick out my book from the seat pocket in front of me, fully aware that he is glaring into the side of my head. I hear him mutter something to his wife in German, he turns around to look for a space, finds enough of it immediately (including able to fit one of their pieces in front of my guitar, with no problem at all) and they take the row behind, still muttering about me. I turn around to make him aware that while I do not understand his words, I understand the meaning.
If there were suitcases above my seat, would he have had the same reaction? I think not. Because it was something he did not value, or understand, he felt that it did not belong. That his collection of underpants and socks, swimming goggles and toothpaste were far more important because they were in a familiar and conventional and uniform rectangular carrying case. The unusual frightened him and he took that fear out on someone else.
I spent the rest of the flight fairly pleased that I had educated him on this (at least until his next flight), while he had only been inconvenienced in so far that two of his bags were immediately across the aisle rather than above his head. It was a minor victory for musicians worldwide.
I smiled, ordered a gin & tonic, and settled into my book.