Thursday, May. 13, 2010

Flights of Fancy

Best Way to Keep Your Sanity in Economy Class
Hong Kong

Flying in a plane's pointy end has never been a problem. But like most of us, I usually turn right upon entering an aircraft, shuffle past the premium customers swilling bubbly and stretching out in their roomy business-class rafts and make for some distant seat far beyond the lilac aisle curtains. Back there, in the thrombotic bondage of Row 48 or the airless purgatory of Row 72, I traditionally resorted to a three-pronged approach to making the ensuing journey bearable: a fistful of Valium, a brace of Bloody Marys and the methodical sluicing of stupendous quantities of wine with dinner.

Since the birth two years ago of my younger daughter Naimah, however, I have been required to be sober and comprehensively alert at all times, on the ground and especially in the air. Strapping a small but immensely powerful toddler into an aircraft seat for hours at a stretch is not a thing to be undertaken with anything less than full faculties. But that's fine, for when it comes to keeping us both amused, I have discovered an airborne helpmate better than any narcotic — and its name is Studio CX, the in-flight entertainment system of Cathay Pacific. I was probably too wasted to appreciate it before.

To give you the stats, we are talking about 100 movies, 350 TV shows, 888 CDs, 70 games and 22 radio channels available at any time on 60 aircraft serving Cathay's medium- and long-haul routes. (For its video programming over the latter, the airline has won an Avion award, in-flight entertainment's equivalent of an Oscar.) Audio and visual diversion is available in everything from English to Hindi to Tagalog. Most crucial, the system also speaks toddler. On a recent flight from Sydney to Hong Kong, blithely disregarding current research stating that exposing young children to any more than 90 minutes of viewing at a time will turn them into madly inattentive dreamers — Naimah's that already — we strapped a pair of headphones on her, navigated between Toy Story and The Tigger Movie and heard nothing but giggling and cooing for several hours. That meant I could wallow in a fix of uninterrupted reading. Ever since Naimah appeared on the scene, it's been one of the few intoxicants available to me.