Having weighed in, soberly and professionally, on the “air rage” phenomenon — at the newly minted Mandarin Media blog — I couldn’t leave the subject without relating the more salacious story of my first trip to the French Alps. It wasn’t exactly an instance of “air rage”, but it well illustrates the peculiar holidaymaking mindset, among some Brits, that can and has led to many an airborne incident. In short (I love quoting myself), “There is something to the idea, born of armchair psychology, that Brits cut loose on holiday in reaction to leaving what remains a very buttoned-up, class-restrictive culture.”
It was March 1985. My girlfriend and I were studying abroad, in London, and we’d booked a chartered ski package to La Plagne, in France, for mid-semester break. Our flight from Gatwick to Geneva, almost entirely peopled by English holidaymakers, quickly degenerated into a sort of raucous booze cruise at 30,000 feet. Everyone, it seemed, had broken open the bottles just procured at duty free.
Normally, such characters scatter to the four winds upon landing, but this was a charter. We had all purchased the same ski package. Accordingly, the same rowdy group piled onto a single coach and set out for La Plagne — in a blizzard.
By this time, my girlfriend and I had traveled a great deal together. This much was clear: If she wasn’t seated directly behind the bus driver, she was dangerously prone to car sickness. So, from the very front of the coach, we could hear the party raging behind us, as we crept our way along ever more windy, mountainous roads. This was a non-smoking bus; the Brits defiantly smoked like chimneys and brandished their duty-free liquor bottles like groomsmen at a stag party. Then came the songs.
The unfortunate leader of this charter was a mild-mannered American 22-year-old named Chad. His attempts to tamp things down were met with open ridicule. He was a tad chubby, our Chad. Ultimately, he was regaled with a spirited rendition of “Who ate all the pies?”
From our perch behind the driver, we witnessed the trip’s dramatic turning point: An oncoming Citroen spun out in the snowy conditions and crossed into our lane. The bus driver tried evasive action but these were shoulder-less roads — and it was snowing like a bastard. The car bounced off the driver’s side of the bus, right below us, and we skidded to a stop — literally perched, precariously, at the edge of a steep, snowy hillside.
We sat there for half an hour, crowded onto the left side of the bus (to avoid tipping the bus and our still soused party into oblivion) until a replacement vehicle arrived. When it did, we all exited out the driver-side window.
This replacement bus was not big enough to accommodate all of our luggage, so the entire party was deposited at a nearby train station, which served some small French mountain town whose name I cannot recall. The station had a bar, however, and our new British friends set about drinking again, as if nothing had happened. To be fair, so did we. Having cheated death, we tucked into a couple bottles of wine with two more American friends who were traveling with us.
Two hours later, we piled onto the second replacement bus, where our moveable booze-fest was now completely out of hand. Chad just hunkered down beside us; this party could not be stopped — or could it…
The up-and-down, side-to-side nature of our alpine journey would result in two initial incidents of vomiting. Each time the bus ascended and descended, the resulting spew sloshed back and forth along the bus floor. The stench had just the wrong sort of effect on others who teetered at the edge of nausea.
Upon arrival in La Plagne, I don’t believe I’ve ever been quite so thankful to disembark from anything. Rule Brittania!