I have taken lots of flights in the past 20 years for work and pleasure and so pretty much know the safety drill inside out for take off and landing. Seat upright, tray table stowed? Check! Bags securely stowed in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you? Check! Handphone off? Check! Earphones out of your ears? What???
That has to be the weirdest safety request I have encountered and the first time I am encountering it on a flight from Hyderabad back to Singapore last week.
Now, the flights from India are usually very challenging, even for the most experienced traveler – they generally depart late night around 11 pm to just after midnight local time (which would be Singapore 2 am plus) and arrive at about 6 am in the morning. Do the math and you realise that you either stay up the whole flight or catch barely 2-3 hours sleep with all the disruption of take off and landing procedures, increasing the chance of suffering jet lag even though it is just a 2.5 hour time difference between Singapore and India.
Which is why, given my frequent travels to India, I have become a adept at managing sleep on these flights. With my routine, I have been able to get at time 4 to 5 hour sleep on the plane. How could you possibly squeeze 5 hours sleep out of a flight that is 4 hours long?
Here’s the drill: When you book the flight, get a window seat. Make sure you get yourself watered, hydrated and toileted before you board. Be among the first to get on board the plane (not an issue with frequent flyer gold status). Settle in quickly, tuck yourself under your blanket, prop yourself up nicely against the window with your pillow wedged between you and the window. Put on your noise cancelling earphones and turn the sound to zero if you plug it into the aircraft’s sound system – bliss. And close your eyes. And if you are an accomplished mother of four kids who has mastered the art of sleeping whenever you get a chance to, you will be asleep even before as the plane is still being boarded by the majority of your fellow passengers.
Which brings me back to my original story…
So there I was, already halfway to dreamland when I was shaken awake by the air stewardess. “Miss, you need to take off your earphones.” Huh, okay, being addressed as “Miss” was a nice touch, but what about the earphones? “They aren’t plugged into a mobile phone and my phone is turned off.” I mumbled sleepily thinking that must be the issue. “No Miss, you can’t have your earphones in your ears during take off. In case of an emergency you will not be able to hear the announcements.”
Okay, now that one is downright weird. In case of an emergency, I don’t think any earphones plugged into my ears, noise-cancelling or otherwise, is going to be so effectively blissful to keep me asleep amidst presumably turbulence and perhaps screaming and panicking fellow passengers?
Not wanting to get thrown off the flight on account of being an uncooperative passenger, I complied. I did not even want to visit the possible scenario that a earphone plugged in passenger who refused to take off her earphones might be a safety threat to other passengers and to the flight.Satisfied, the air stewardess moved on to continue the rest of her pre-take off visual inspection. Then I saw that my fellow passenger seating next to me, a young girl travelling on her own, still busy replying to notifications on her facebook account. So … it is more dangerous for me to be having earphones plugged into my ears during take off than for a facebook posting teenager to still have her handphone turned on even as we are already taxi-ing towards the runway?!! Fortunately, another air stewardess came along and spotted the offending act and addressed it.
So the flight took off and I plugged my noise-cancelling earphones in as soon as I was sure we were not going to have any announcement-triggering emergencies. And I was asleep through the distribution of toiletries kits and through the meal service (I don’t even know why we would need a meal service between midnight and 4 am India time or 2 am to 6 am Singapore time) … until I got roused again by the same stewardess. “Miss, we are landing soon. Can you please take off your earphones?”
I first got told to take off my headphones during takeoff about 8 years ago! I actually thought that they had become more relaxed about this but I guess not.