I’ve been flung to the summits of ferocious Pacific rollers, survived paragliding crashes in the Andes, and outrun packs of angry street dogs in Brazil’s favelas. 

I’ve scraped through with just a few bumps, bites and bruises, the occasional broken bone and a couple of snapped ligaments. 

Every near-death experience has left me feeling like I’ve swerved a bullet. But on each occasion, my fate has, largely, remained in my own sometimes-sanitized hands. I’ve nearly always felt in control. 

In the wake of this particularly petrifying global pandemic, however, I cant help but wonder if I should have been more scared of the dangers lurking, unidentified, on screens, handles and armrests, than the death-defying assignments I was actually en route to. 

Previously, ignorance was bliss. But now, my fear is not for mid-Atlantic squalls or mountaintop blizzards, but the germs loitering in loos and on the tissues stuffed between seats.

If any good is to come out of this unprecedented and distressing ordeal, it’s that the entire aviation industry – and the passengers that frequent it – will recognise the need to clean up their act. Collectively, we must challenge the grubby and selfish norm. 

Individuals, companies, governments and organisations must use this experience as a turning point. Because when we congregate in shared spaces, like the fuselage of a plane, our health and wellbeing stops being a purely private and personal notion, and becomes a collective pursuit. 

So to the man I once sat beside on a flight between Tahiti and Auckland, hocking thick mucus from his lungs into a clear plastic cup, for six gruesome hours – why did you think this behaviour was remotely acceptable? In what self-centred universe do you operate?

Selfishness is rampant at 35,000ft


And to the parents I sat next to on a flight between Georgia and London last year – I sympathise that travelling with toddlers is tough, but why is it OK to change your child’s dirty nappy on your seatback tray table while people around you are eating their lunch? And then surreptitiously stuff the dirty, sodden package into the seat pocket, when there were private baby changing facilities just a few feet away?

In hindsight, I’m furious with myself for not calling these people out, there and then. Nevertheless, when this whole thing dies down – and people come out the other side with a renewed sense of awareness for their mortality and fragility – I expect there to be a huge upsurge in passenger shaming

So, for the record, and to save you your blushes. It is not cool to wander around a plane in bare feet. Stripping to your underwear for a mile-high snooze isn’t acceptable, either. If you pee all over the toilet floor, clean it up. If you brush your teeth, don’t leave minty foam all over the basin and mirror – why should your fellow passengers have to wash their hands in your saliva? 

And if you feel unwell, don’t get on the flight, full stop. Airlines, insurers and tour operators should do more to make it easier for sick passengers to skip their flights, without financial penalty. We’ve seen that coronavirus can go undetected, without symptoms, but I’ve also been on dozens of planes in the past with people displaying persistent and concerning signs of being highly infectious.  

At no point, however – from the check-in desk to their final destination – did anyone question if they should really be subjecting their contagious pathogens upon hundreds of other people sat in close proximity? In the same way we pass through meticulous airport security controls, better medical screening must become de rigueur – even if that means travellers need to arrive at the airport another hour or two early. 

We’ve become accustomed to the slap-dash nature of international travel, trimming every superfluous minute from the process in a bid to save precious time. But this has come at the grave cost of hygiene. Some airlines like Ryanair even gloat about turning a plane around in 25 minutes, but in this time of panic, when we’re using 20 precious seconds to wash our hands, you have to wonder how clean that plane really is. 

This pandemic has taught us that a novel disease like coronavirus can spread rapidly around the world – fuelled, in part, by our collective penchant for international jet setting. But now we have ample time to reflect, we must ensure that the industry that pops out the other side is cleaner and better prepared – and that we as individuals are ready to shoulder greater responsibility for our actions. 

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