Three flights, 27 hours later, and I know this much is true: it's impossible to look good flying long-haul. Not in economy. It can't be done. You can give it your best go at the beginning, as I so foolishly, hopefully tried to this time round.

I turned up to the airport wearing a new pair of trainers, chosen with great consideration on the grounds of being unsmelly, along with my favourite T-shirt, and my softest jeans, also new. Checking in, I looked, if not glamorous exactly, then at least pulled-together and ready for the road. By the time we got to Dubai 20 hours later, you wouldn't have touched me with a 10-foot pole.

My face and hair were coated in the same thin film of grime my body reeked of; that uniquely filthy miasma of hot plastic, dead air and overcooked food that constitutes plane dirt.

This is the gift that comes to you gratis every time you fly cattle class, or as the Americans call it; 'coach'. This is libel, obviously. I have never taken a bus ride that's left me smelling worse than a badly embalmed corpse. Indeed, the reek of the tomb would probably be preferable to the atmosphere routinely generated by taking several hundred human beings and corralling them in a giant can for half a day.


You haven't really been dirty until you've been long-haul dirty, is what I mean to say. There's probably a German word for it, that unique brand of dreck generated by flying. If there isn't, there should be, and it should sound like the smell of aeroplane food.

The only mercy of the whole sorry enterprise - and calling it a mercy hints at the depravity of the entire affair - is that eventually, as every toddler knows, you hit a point where you can't physically get any dirtier. You're as unclean as you're going to get without actually soiling yourself. Hopefully you will avoid this final indignity, unless the plane goes down.

The good news though, is that you can sit back and relax once you've reached this point of peak-scuzz. Recline the seat, ignore your dirty fingernails, and maybe even take in a few Downton Abbey re-runs.

Certainly that was my experience this time around. By the time I got on the Dubai-Barcelona leg - a mere hop-skip-and-jump of a journey at seven hours long - my spirit had been sufficiently broken that I was content to throw some water on my face every few hours, drag a toothbrush over my teeth and whack a whole lot of duty-free moisturiser on whatever expanse of scaly skin looked most like peeling off.

So it was, I arrived in Spain fully filthy and surprisingly sanguine. This, I think, is the way to do it, just surrender-roil around in the general degradation that comes with flying long-haul economy as best you can, until the blessed day comes when you can afford to turn left instead of right getting on the plane, or at the very least blag a day pass that gets you a shower in a business lounge.

"To strive, to seek, to find," wrote Tennyson. He was not, to the best of our knowledge, talking about scoring an upgrade, but given the indignities that await one otherwise, what greater goal in life could there be?