Air travel can seem so easy: you get on a plane, sit for a while and disembark at your destination. But scratch the surface of this ostensibly simple exercise and you will uncover an array of dilemmas to ponder. Here are six complications that could trip up unwary travellers.

One: Contaminated tongs

Two Thursdays ago I was enjoying pumpkin soup in the regional Koru lounge at Auckland domestic airport when a girl dropped some tongs on the floor in front of the self-service sandwich/muffin bar. At first I wondered if one of the attendants would hear the clatter and whisk the contaminated item away.

This didn't happen. The girl, who was maybe twelve-years-old, picked up the tongs and returned them to the bar. Her mother/caregiver just smiled. Maybe it was an evil smile: "Bah ha ha! Now our plan to bring germs to the mouths of the stuffed suits in the Koru lounge is about to come to fruition."

So I watched events unfold. A lounge attendant came along and repositioned the tongs so they sat nicely on the little tong plate. The next customer used his fingers to procure a club sandwich and a muffin. Usually I'd have thought: "Gross." On that occasion I was like: "Good thinking." I think the next person used their bare hands too. I had no idea so many people eschewed the tongs.


But eventually a few people served themselves sandwiches with the offending instrument. I felt a little squeamish on their behalf, in the knowledge that the food of these refined tong-users was possibly contaminated by whatever was on the soles of the shoes of dozens of domestic air-travellers.

Two: Arm-rest agitation

What are the rules about the skinny central arm-rest when two strangers are sitting side by side? It's not wide enough for two elbows so which passenger has dibs on it? How can this asset best be apportioned? If my excursion to Napier and back the other week is anything to go by, the old you-snooze-you-lose rule seems to apply.

On both of my flights, the person beside me took immediate possession of the arm-rest. I pondered this turn of events and figured they'd decided to take it for the first thirty minutes and that it would be mine for the remainder of the journey. But no! Both these rapscallions did not relinquish their hold on this luxury lodge for elbows until we arrived at our final destination. How rude!

Three: Seat disputes

The Monday before last I boarded the Air NZ aircraft in Napier and sat in the aisle seat printed on my boarding pass. Then the man who had been allocated the window seat turned up and asked: "Do you want the window?" This was a polite way of saying: "Scooch over."

But I like the aisle seat on short flights. I value nimbleness when travelling which is why I choose an aisle seat and a row near the access door. It's also why I fly with hand luggage only. So I replied: "Not really". (Plus I'm not keen on being bossed around by a man. Or a lady. Or a gender-nonspecific person.)

I do not scooch on a plane. I do not scooch on a train. (He seemed like a nice man. I honestly don't think he stole the central arm-rest as payback for my refusal to scooch. That's just overthinking the situation. No one likes people who overthink situations.)

Four: The front row

When I walk past people seated in row one, I sometimes register a self-congratulatory vibe emanating from their general direction: "Ha ha, I'm in the front row and you're not." I just think: "Bless." These people must be unaware that the front row of a domestic aircraft is the worst seat on the plane for two reasons.

One: there's no seat in front under which you can stow your handbag so precious possessions such as keys, wallets and passports must be stored where you cannot supervise them. Two: often the overhead lockers above row one are designated for crew use only, leaving the front-row passengers seriously short of convenient storage options.

Five: Overhead lockers

I am slowly recovering from an aversion to overhead lockers which had its origins in an incident about fifteen years ago. When the storage unit above my seat was already full, the cabin attendant took my carry-on bag and put it in an overhead locker about six rows behind my seat. I was like: "What the?"

You should have seen me at the end of the flight trying to claw my way through the seething mass of humanity intent on exiting through the door at the front of the cabin. It wasn't pretty. I've only just begun trusting these lockers again. The secret, of course, is to board early. Being all chilled and waiting for the second boarding call is not recommended.

Six: Exit ramp

These days, a ramp is sometimes wheeled out so passengers can disembark from regional flights onto the tarmac. It must be wider (and is probably safer) than the usual steep and narrow stairs but it's a bit of a trap for people in high-heeled boots. That additional incline is the last thing we need after all the stress and tension we've endured on board.