Photo: Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

I Unintentionally 'Rawdogged' a Long-Haul Flight. It's as Horrible as It Sounds

Airports + Flying
by Katie Scott Aiton Jun 27, 2024

In 2013, I was an international student in Sydney and took the over 24-hour flight with Qantas back to my home for Christmas in the UK. I was well versed in surviving long-haul flights. I spent most of my twenties flying between Scotland, Australasia, and Asia. But nothing could have prepared me for the endurance of unintentionally “rawdogging” this brutal journey in economy class.

Recently, a subset of travel influencers on TikTok have started posting about taking a flight without using any form of entertainment. No headphones, no movies, and no books — some people even pass on eating, drinking, or even going to the bathroom in extreme cases. One of the most popular people putting out these videos goes by the handle @WestWasHere. He told GQ that it’s like meditation, and very much a challenge to conquer in a sealed metal tube with hundreds of all-too-close strangers. The goal is to simply sit back, relax, and stare out the window or at the flight map. Online discourse being what it is, it goes by names like “rawdogging” a flight, going “bareback,” and “flying raw.”

Believe me, it’s as stupid as it sounds.

The route from Australia to Scotland takes around 26 hours in total, and before that 2013 nightmare of a flight, I actually found the last leg, the short one-and-a-half-hour trip from London to Edinburgh, was usually the most challenging part. That was before I experienced an over 24-hour journey from Sydney to Heathrow via Singapore without onboard entertainment.

When I boarded the Qantas flight in Sydney, I had a bulkhead seat with a pop-out screen in the armrest. After taking off, I pushed the release button and positioned my screen to check out the choice of movies. I’m unashamed to admit that I find this very exciting. “A classic rom-com and a couple of new releases, and I’ll be halfway home in no time,” I thought. But the screen was blank.

I clicked it back into position, thinking I’d try the turn-it-off-and-back-on trick, but nothing happened. So, I hit the call button and asked for a system reset. The cabin crew helpfully did so and came back to try to light up the screen themselves. But no cigar.

We were about an hour into the flight, and I was told to hold tight as the crew had to start the beverage service. I grabbed my book and knocked out the few remaining chapters as the guy to my right was on his own endurance test with Ewan McGregor in The Impossible. Little did I know that, shortly, I would be the one crying my eyes out.

After multiple resets, the flight attendant told me that, unfortunately, my screen would not work and that, because the flight was full, I couldn’t change my seat or move to business or first class. Surely, this was impossible, and I asked to talk privately with a senior crew member. Although they were as apologetic as you’d imagine, I was told moving seats was a no-go.

On the eight-hour leg from Sydney to Singapore, I re-read the beginning of my book, drank too much wine, sat on the toilet and cried, considered how I’d like to die onboard if the pilot lost control, and overthought failed relationships.

I had the same dreaded seat on the flight to London, but I was assured that when the plane refueled in Singapore and we had to disembark, they’d get an engineer to sort out the technical issue for the remainder of the journey to the UK.

This honestly gave me little assurance, and as I re-boarded and checked the system and was met with the same black screen, I crumpled. I was a nervous wreck and had a panic attack as the plane took off. There was a new crew to explain my situation to, and just like the first round, they delivered the party line apologetically, but they were unable to move me to another seat on the full plane.

For the remaining 14 hours, I slept a lot. Now feeling hungover and emotionally drained, I remember wishing for sleep, checking a stopwatch I had set on my cell phone: three hours, four hours, five. I felt trapped and, honestly, a little scared.

There is nothing glamorous, big, or brave about “rawdogging” a flight. I had no come-to-Jesus moment, mental clarity, or meditative, introspective breakthrough. Nor did I receive financial compensation from Qantas, only a lazily written apology email from customer service.

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