Illustration of passengers on a plane having sex, The Mile High Club

The Layover:
Love is in the air


Following up on his initial column for OutThere, Zack Cahill returns to The Layover, a new and not entirely serious editorial addition to our Experientialist feel-good newspaper. This time around, he shoots across the sky (figuratively!) to discuss the peculiar phenomenon of the Mile High Club.

The British obsession with clubs and initiation rights is just one example of this sainted isle’s perverted history. How hard it is to join is of course directly related to the value of a club: the Freemasons require a belief in God, a recommendation from a member, and a penis (and if that sentence isn’t an argument for the Oxford comma, then I don’t know what is).

To join the Bullingdon Club, you need to shag a pig, be a future prime minister, or both. But one club – home to playboy billionaires, famous tech bros and BAFTA-winning actors – is far more meritocratic. It’s open to both Prince and Pauper. You could join tomorrow provided you have the guts or lack of shame to follow through with a quick knee rattler in the bogs at ten thousand feet.

Before looking into the history of the Mile High Club, I assumed it was an eighties thing, with the era of glamorous flight giving way to the me-me-me decade. I mean, it’s all a bit coke and champers isn’t it? Turns out I was wrong. The Mile High Club is as old as aviation itself. A betting book for Brook’s Gentleman’s Club includes a 1785 entry (only two years after the first successful balloon ascent) that reads: ‘Lord Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Lord Derby to receive 500 Gs whenever his lordship fucks a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth’.

Ah, the dignity of the British upper classes.

The alleged benefit of doing it mid-air is the supposedly shag-enhancing vibration of the plane, but this is nonsense. In fact, the whole Mile High thing has the whiff of the playground bragger about it, like it was made up by someone who’d only read about sex. Picture the 12-year-old kid at school who claimed they had a girlfriend but she lived in Canada. It’s like all those made-up sex positions: the Mexican Pancake, the Cleveland Accordion, the Tony Danza (fairly sure I only made one of those up).

So imagine my surprise when I asked my Instagram friends if any of them had been gross enough to actually join the club, and got a flood of responses.

The first was: ‘Does fingering count?’ The second, “No, but I’ve jerked off’. Both of these answers came from Australians – make of that what you will.

But then some genuine stories started rolling in.

Jane (name changed, natch), was on a return flight from Tokyo, which she’d been chased out of by police after failing to pay a hospital bill for having her stomach pumped. What I’m saying is that she already had a pretty good story to tell… but something made her want more. The flight was overnight and soon enough the lights went out and the crew was nowhere to be seen. She nudged her boyfriend, who knew she’d wanted to give it a go, and they were able to pull the whole thing off with ease.

In a win for inclusivity, the next story I heard involved two women. The details were similar, only they found it even easier, believing no one would be too suspicious of two girls using the bathroom together anyway.

Once you get over the fear factor, it seems anyone can join the club with ease. But you still need to be careful, as a number of famous members have found.

Ralph Fiennes was caught in flagrante with a Qantas flight attendant en route to Mumbai in 2007. The attendant was sacked but Fiennes was nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe (albeit for another performance).

That same year, the co-founder of Skype, Janus Friis, openly had sex with Roger Moore’s stepdaughter while flying to the Oscars.

2007 was something of a banner year for the Mile High Club, in fact. Was it perhaps a last gasp of showy affluence as the era of peak travel, easy credit, and unchecked economic growth came to a close with the Lehman Brothers collapse?

I remember that time, when the spectre of the ‘credit crunch’ seemed to loom on the horizon for months before it finally hit. It brings to mind the apparently wanking man of Pompeii. When Vesuvius blew and he saw that towering wall of molten hell speeding towards him, he whipped down his breeches or whatever and spent his final moments furiously pleasuring himself. He lies there still (don’t believe us?), seemingly preserved mid-act, an alleged monument to erotic self-abuse, destined to go viral on Twitter every few years.

Was that what we were in 2007? A bunch of rich, cackling shaggers, ignoring the oncoming doom? Fiddling while Rome burned?

If I’ve learned anything talking to friends who are members, it’s that joining the Mile High Club is relatively simple, and not all that rare. So maybe it’s time to push things further. Whilst NASA insists there’s never been any sex in space, there have been some attempts. A 1999 adult movie did achieve some brief zero-gravity sex, though this was on a parabolic flight, still very much within the Earth’s atmosphere. Sadly, a 2016 attempt to crowdfund the first pornographic film in space failed to meet its goal.

But we tried, damn it. For as long as there are frontiers to breach, there will be people trying to shag there. And that makes me proud to be human.

Illustration by Martin Perry

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