Leaving on a trashed plane, don’t know if I’ll be back again

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plane flying into clouds

In 1981, my mother and I flew with Qantas to Los Angeles. I was a teenager and it was my first international flight.

I was impressed with the beautiful flight attendants who could all just as easily been models. They served us orange juice in little containers and supplied warm flannel hand towels to wash our face and hands after we’d finished. The orange juice containers and hand towels were then collected before take off.

During the flight, we were offered headphones with which to watch movies or listen to music. To keep us hydrated, passengers had access to a water dispenser (with small paper cups with waxy edges) at the rear of the plane and people would gather there to smoke or chat and stretch their legs.

Planes stopped in Hawaii to refuel and change crew before terminating in LA. Besides a few discarded boarding passes and the occasional orange juice or water container (the headphones were collected before we landed) the planes were tidy. I loved flying so much I wanted to be a flight attendant when I left school.

Thankfully, I never pursued this career path.

I’ve flown this route four times since 1981, most recently on Qantas, and my impression of flying has changed dramatically.

This time, my flight was crowded and  stuffy and flew non-stop to LA. Economy was packed to capacity. The jet was enormous. The glamorous cabin crew were long gone and replaced by harried staff who rushed along the aisles with little time for small talk.

Groups of three or more people are no longer permitted to mingle at the rear of the plane longer than five minutes. These new security restrictions mean that grumpy staff are always moving passengers along.

The paper cups and flannel hand towels have also gone. Instead, plastic is everywhere. Plastic covered Mars Bars and assorted sweets, plastic cups, plastic utensils, headphones wrapped in plastic and aluminium soft drink are casually discarded by passengers during the flight. No one collects the rubbish so it all ends up on the floor, seats and aisles. By the end of the flight the plane looks like a tip.

I was shocked. As I exited the plane, passing aisle after aisle of rubbish, I commented to a steward that it looked like the aftermath of a party. He replied that the planes are always left like this and thankfully it isn’t his job to clean them.

How sad that it’s come to this.

A vehicle that soars above the clouds, a marvel of engineering that in 14 hours takes us from one continent to another, is trashed with such disdain. Yes, the amount of plastic is a problem but so is the attitude of the people flying. Planes are treated with the same contempt as fast food outlets.

I’m glad I never became a flight attendant because these days flying makes me want to cry.

Sue Bell

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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