Sunday, October 30, 2016

Time travel

Reporting on my sober trans-continental flight experience and how it differed from past experiences.

Excecutive summary: I did not miss a thing and I felt sooooo much better when landing than I ever did before.

The start of my journey did not bode well. The flight from my home town into Auckland was delayed by 40 minutes, so what should have been a leisurely stroll from domestic to international terminal, a half hour wasted in the security queue and a walk through the duty free shops with a disdainful smirk on my face - well, it really went like this:

On the delayed flight I worked out a deal with the flight attendant that once the seatbelt signs were off, I'd be allowed first dibs to get to the airplane door. She was great. Made that a public announcement in here "Welcome to Auckland" speech. Gotta love Air NZ flight attendants!

The leisurely stroll turned into a fast walk with as much running as I could fit in. Which is not much. I'm not a runner. Never have been. The most I ever ran in one piece was a 6 km leg, in a team relay, but that was over 10 years ago, I trained for that event for 6 weeks and I hated every minute of it. I'm still far away from my ideal weight right now, and running is not what I do.

I'm built for comfort, not for speed.

So, after hot-footing it to gate security, the dragon in charge had mercy with my yapping, gasping shape and allowed me to use the shortcut around the long queue. After that, still at the briskest of all walking paces I completely ignored the duty-free area and made straight for the gate, where boarding was just about to finish.


Then the flight experience. Premium economy with pampering. So here she comes, the next lovely Air NZ flight attendant and asks if I'd like some sparkling wine. Well, I was prepared for that question. "Thanks, but no thanks. If you could round up some sparkling water, that'd be great." Which she could and promptly did.

After that I just settled in. Meal, movies, more sparkling water, slept a bit, movies, breakfast, arrival. I did not think about drinking or about alcohol at all during the whole flight. And what a difference that was.

Previously, I would have schemed and scheduled how I could get as much alcohol into me as possible, especially since it was free. Start at home, maybe, if I could, and get a few glasses down.

Then at AKL airport I would try and get two glasses into me while waiting for the flight, spending more on a single glass than I would on a bottle from the supermarket, and feeling terribly guilty about that, but the need for alcohol was stronger.

If I was lucky enough to be in a premium class, there would be the bubbly before take off. Then pre-dinner drinks. I'd select based purely on effect than on enjoyment. Vodka? Gin?

Then dinner. Go for the red wine. How fast could I down it without looking greedy? There! My neighbour's wine glass was already lower than mine. So I could ask for more, too, right?

How many times would the bottle be brought around? Here she comes. Drat, she has the white wine, not the red. Drumming my fingers internally. Finally, here she is with the red. Come on, you can't be serious. That's what you call a refill? Please, just pour a bit more, will you? I need more!!

And after that? It was a revelation when I once saw my seat neighbour ring for the flight attendant and ask for another glass. It hadn't occurred to me that I could do that. From then on I knew I could and I did and they would bring more. Could I go to the galley and ask for more? I tried and I could and they would give me more wine. I still would not be as sozzled as I wanted to get, though.

On one occasion, I got a bottle of vodka from duty free and before boarding I went to the bathroom, illegally cracked open the alcohol bottle and refilled my water bottle with vodka and some orange juice. That would keep me independent of the wine bottles, right? What I had not factored in was my connecting flight in the US. I kept the vodka in my hand luggage, and when I went through security for the US domestic flight, they would not allow me to keep that open bottle. If I my brain had not been so addled with booze, I may have had the presence to transfer the bottle to my suitcase after bringing it through immigration/customs and before checking it back in for the domestic leg.

On another occasion, I flew into Vancouver and had a connecting flight to the US. While waiting for that, I shopped at the duty free in Vancouver and bought a bottle. When I got to the gate, my flight had left. The attendant at the counter said that they had paged me several times. He was nice enough to get me on the next flight, and he let me out through a back door, so I did not have to sit in the gate for three hours. I was a smoker then, and could not face that much time without a cigarette, so I wanted to get out of the gate, but of course that meant I had to give up the bottle, since I could not bring that through security.

These are two occasions where I wasted lots of dollars on securing alcohol supply, but my behaviour was so affected by in-flight alcohol consumption already that the money was a total write-off.

Sleeping on a plane is always difficult for me and I always had a headache and very low energy on arrival. The combination of sleep deprivation, hangover because of mixing drinks, dehydration because of too much alcohol not drinking enough water -- all this didn't really make the morning after an international flight very pleasant. I'd need half a day to get on top of the haze, then start loading up with drinks again as soon as I felt better.

So, what was different this time? Well, the sparkling water was all I needed, really. I'm not a big fan of the flat bottled water. At home I have a soda-stream machine and I love my sparkling water with a spritz of lemon juice from that yellow bottle in the pantry. So, having sparkling water does a lot to ground me and confirm my sober habits.

They trolleyed with the pre-dinner drinks. I said I was still fine with my half empty 300 ml bottle of sparkling water. The flight attendant gave me another one, anyway, "Just in case". That was nice of her.  I'm sure my neighbor had something with alcohol, but I can't remember. I did not pay attention. It was not important.

Then dinner, and the wine offers. I just smiled and shook my head. My seat neighbor had some red. It didn't bother me. At all. I can't remember how often they came around with the wine to offer refills. I don't know which colour wine they offered first. It does not matter to me anymore.

It dawned on me after arrival how little time I had spent dealing with alcohol on this flight. How my thoughts were NOT constantly revolving around booze. Planning to get it, getting it, drinking it, planning to get more, getting more, drinking more, dealing with the fallout of drinking too much, feeling like shit, still wanting more, still planning ahead about how to get cheap alcohol in a city I don't know.

I have my brains back for thoughts about things that are much more pleasant to think about. Things I actually WANT to think about and ENJOY thinking about.

Now I am in San Francisco. I arrived at my hotel in the early afternoon, freshened up and took a stroll around the neighborhood, some shopping, some food. I went to the movies and watched a film not yet screening in NZ. After that I picked up some lime juice and some sparkling water from a convenience store. I slept like a brick.

Waking up in San Francisco without a hangover is great. I changed my computer time zone to Pacific time, but my Blogger settings are still NZ time zone, so I see comments that were made in the future.

I'm sober and time travelling!!


  1. Sounds awesome! Air travel is actually so much nicer without booze, who knew?! x

  2. Your pre sobriety days sound a lot like mine. Looking forward to sober travel in the future.

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