I board the Qatar flight from Luxor to Doha, on my way back to Dubai. I am in the aisle seat; next to me, a black man in a hat. The plane takes off, reaches cruising altitude; the flight attendants come by and serve lunch. “What would you like to drink, sir?” A white wine, thank you. I unscrew the top, pour a glass, sit back and tuck into my meal.
The man next door taps me on the shoulder. “Stop drinking”, he says. I’m sorry? “Bad smell. No drink wine. Stop drinking.” I’m not going to stop drinking, I say; you booked a ticket on Qatar Airways, and they serve alcohol. If you don’t like it, choose another airline. “No English”, he says.
I continue eating, and take another sip. He pokes my shoulder again. “Bad smell”‘ he says, “no drinking”. Stop bugging me, I say; your religion forbids alcohol, and that’s your choice, but mine doesn’t, and that’s mine. Leave me alone. “No English”, he says.
I carry on. He jabs me in the shoulder again. This time I call the flight attendant, apparently a Filipino. Perhaps this has happened before; he has a spiel. “Qatar airways is an international airline”, he explains to my fundamentalist neighbor, “and we serve alcohol on board to those who request it.” “No English”, he replies.
Can you put him somewhere else? I ask. Happily the flight isn’t quite full, and they find a seat somewhere where he can be happy, next to a similarly abstemious passenger. I am left momentarily shaken at the arrogance of this self-important zealot, who feels he has the right to impose his religious dogma on others in a context where it is not appropriate. But at least I have the pleasurable consolation of a glass of wine; I take another sip, and a deep breath, and calm down. I did suggest to another flight attendant that Qatar consider having a no-drinking section on the plane, but she just wrinkled her nose; “too difficult to organise,” she said.