On the move: Tall people problems and why the exit aisle isn't always the answer

At 189 centimetres tall, I can’t sit for long without my knees knocking the back of the seat I’m staring at

F83NRH Aircraft inside
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Exploring the globe is one of life’s greatest joys, but economy air travel is a low point in the human experience.

I'm a generally patient person. Put me on a plane, however, and I turn into the ­epitome of intolerance; the sky-high ­version of an alt-right Twitter troll. I hate the food (how can a bread roll be that hard?), the toilet flush is terrifying (that shrieking gurgle sounds like it could suck a small human into its vortex), and I shudder at the fact I have to pay thousands of dirhams to sit elbow-to-elbow, shoul­der-to-shoulder, thigh-to-thigh next to a total stranger (who is often suffering from a head cold that's flirting with influenza). 

Unfortunately, I'm also an annoying person on a plane: at 189 centimetres tall, with all my height held in my legs, and firmly in the budget travel bracket, I can't sit for long without my knees knocking the back of the seat I'm staring at. I have no choice. If I want to move at all, I will occasionally bash the plastic chair in front of me.

This, invariably, leads to the person in front of me slamming their back ­strongly against the seat in protest, and then ­reclining their chair entirely out of spite. I'm not even that mad at them for it. I kind of get it – as altitude rises, the human capability for tolerance nosedives.

Why not just sit still, you ask? The ­clincher is, I'm from New Zealand – ergo, any time I want to go back to my home country, I'm sitting in a plane for nearly 20 hours. Getting up every now and then is, unfortunately, inevitable.

Book the exit aisle seats, you say? I do, often, and while I used to turn up at the airport four hours in advance to nab them, you now have to pay between Dh200 to Dh600 each way for the privilege. I then spend an entire flight right next to the toilet doors, witnessing a parade of people ­moving to and from the lavatory, often ­stopping for hour-long 2am chats about subjects I don't care about. Or, worse, using the space in front of me as a place to stretch: someone once got a yoga mat out and downward dogged, with their face right at my toes.  

The exit aisle seats are also right next to parents taking their babies home or on ­holiday. The little people generally cry inconsolably for most of the flight. But, you know what? Solidarity crying babies – they're in a tin tube, at altitude, ears popping, and being told to sleep while surrounded by strangers. I can't imagine getting through a long-haul flight if I wasn't yet able to ­comprehend the point of it all.

I might have had a better time in the 1980s. The distance between seats (known as pitch) ranged from about 81cm to 91cm in 1985, but is about 74cm to 81cm today. Ten centimetres is a lot of leg.

So, what can I do in our more cramped, contemporary times? Pay thousands of dirhams for a bit of extra leg room with a side of cacophonous noise, or just book a normal seat and hope to hit the ­economy jackpot: an empty plane in which I can fashion a bed out of a row of four seats.

I feel truly #blessed when this happens. The extra seatbelts dig into my hips, and I have to lie contorted in order to keep my seatbelt on, but I don't care – being able to elevate my annoyingly long legs on that 18.5-hour flight is worth the back spasms I'll experience for a day or two after. It's a poor man's business class, and I'll take it.  

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