Thump, thump, thump. The unsteady knock behind my head wakes me up somewhere over the Bay of Bengal. Thump… thump. It takes me a few dozy moments to realise I’m in an airline seat, and that the disturbance behind me isn’t the aircraft’s wings falling off, but a more localised impact transmitted via my headrest. It feels like a small child is bored and fidgeting, kicking their feet forward, just as I did when I was little, and bored during car journeys. Thump, thump.
How long would it be, I wondered, before the restless child finds a different diversion, or their parent notices and stops the kicking? I reckoned about ten minutes. I tried returning to sleep during a lull.
Thump, THUMP. That one really gave me a start, and this game has been going on for too long. It’s time to take a walk and stretch my legs. Most of the cabin is in darkness on this overnight flight, with many passengers slumbering, apart from a few insomniacs like me.
After a good stretch I return, taking a curious look at who’s sitting behind me. To my great surprise there’s no child; instead, a middle-aged woman is playing a computer game on the touchscreen mounted in my headrest. So now I have the dilemma of how to deal with another passenger’s unwitting anti-social behaviour. She is Burmese, her travelling companions are asleep, and she’s bored. She has every right to be playing a game, but how do I tell her to do so less forcefully?
I do the British thing: I don’t complain, I tolerate, rationalising that she will stop soon anyway. She may not speak good English, my Burmese leaves much to be desired and I don’t want to cause a scene. My instincts prove right and she does stop soon after I sit back down; but for the rest of the flight I’m unable to relax, waiting for the thumping to begin again.
Having since taken three other Qatar Airways flights using the same inflight entertainment system, I realise that my bad luck was not an isolated incident. This particular game, and others, require you to poke the screen repeatedly to play. I played the game myself to see if my fellow passenger was using excessive force. On two separate flights (on Qatar Airways Airbus 319s), both with the carrier’s ‘Oryx’-branded, Panasonic IFE, I found the touchscreens remarkably insensitive to touch. If you’re a player, the obvious response is to jab the screen harder, and these thumps are transmitted to the headrest.
What can the passenger do in this situation? Next time I won’t hesitate in asking the thumper to desist. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but it’s better than the spending the whole flight feeling besieged. And what should the airline do about it? Remove games from the inflight entertainment that require the screen to be poked like an itch that won’t go away?
We all deserve a relaxing, stress-free flight.
[Editor's note: Newer generation IFE screens boast capacitive touchscreens, meaning less thump, thump, thumping in-flight. Photo from Qatar's IFE web page.]