Being tall is great. Strangers ask you if you play basketball, you can see which men are balding before anyone else, you get really good at ducking doorways, a visit to China makes you feel a bit like a boring version of Godzilla, and your long arms make it possible to reach the salt shaker across the dinner table without having to face the embarrassment of asking someone to pass it to you. Great!
Being tall and flying on an aeroplane, however, is not so great. And as a 6ft 5in man who has flown on numerous aeroplanes, I feel relatively qualified to discuss the reasons why.
You may have seen the recent news of the 7ft Russian athlete who was ejected from a flight (no, not mid-air) for being "too tall to fly". I read that story and thought "Damn, I feel you, brother!" But then I thought, "Actually, you know what, 7ft probably is too tall to fly".
Because it's hard enough when you're 6ft 5. I mean, the short flights — anything under five or six hours — are fine. And by "fine", I mean they're not actually fine. They're back-breakingly uncomfortable, but as an Englishman who's lived in New Zealand and Australia for the past seven years, I've had to contend with plenty far longer hauls. And that's where the real agony begins.
I know what you're thinking: "Why don't you just ask for an aisle or emergency exit seat, you massive pleb?" To which I feel obliged to retort: shut up.
Firstly, the idea that aisle seats are more comfortable for the vertically-endowed is a myth. The knee space is the same. The seat depth is the same. The seat height is the same. None of these measurements are sufficient for anyone over the height of 6ft 2 (which, by the way, is where "tall" starts). And no, stretching your legs out in the aisle is not an option, as the flight attendants pushing those 500-tonne carts full of constipation platters and rock-hard bread rolls will so gladly tell you. You don't know pain until you cop one of those in the kneecap.
The middle seat on a long-haul is a no-go for anyone sound of mind. And the window comes with its own foibles. Sure, it's actually possible — if you get the angle just right — to lean against the window and almost completely stretch your legs under the seat in front, but you'll be playing footsie with the occupant for your entire 16-hour slog, which is a bit awkward. Unless they're into it, of course, in which case it's even more awkward.
The last refuge of the tall flier who can't afford business, first class or premium economy (me) is the emergency exit row. A few airlines are actually very good with this: usually I'll ask at check-in if there are any available and if there are, they'll move me to one. Once they even picked me out in the queue and had it ready for me when I got to the counter.
The problem comes when people under the height of 6ft 2 decide to request these seats for their own selfish, short-legged needs and there are none left for those of us who actually need them. I know. The nerve.
Some airlines even charge for the privilege of being seated in an emergency exit row.
When I flew from Los Angeles to Melbourne recently, United tried to charge me — I kid you not — US$200. Were I not so reluctant to make a scene, I would've kicked up the kind of fuss that would've resulted in me being manhandled out of the airport by six security guards as I screamed: "YOU DON'T KNOW PAIN. YOU DON'T KNOW PAIN." Instead I said nothing and suffered silently for the 16-hour flight.
I know I'm lucky to be travelling anywhere in the first place, so how about we meet in the middle on this one?
I'm going to start yoga in the hope that it'll help me bend and fold into whatever shape is necessary to fit in whichever aeroplane seat I end up in.
In the meantime, if you could not make it awkward if I accidentally engage you in footsie, take care not to stand on my legs as they dangle along the aisle, and make a special effort to not book out all of the emergency exit rows unless you are over 6ft 2, well, I'd call that progress.