TAKE-OFF – a short story

A woman has an unusual experience on a routine flight to London





The other passengers boarded the aircraft with indifference, sipping bottled water whilst dragging their trolley cases behind them. Some even turned right at the galley without looking up from their handheld screens. I wish I too could be this nonchalant, but it’s been decades since I was able to enter an airplane without developing sweaty palms and a racing pulse.

Luckily, as I stepped into the galley I managed to get a glimpse inside the cockpit through the side-window. The captain and first officer were going over the check-list and I was pleased to see them both strapped in. My shoulders dropped from ear hight and I even managed to smile at Janet, our purser.

‘Lovely to see you, Lally,’ she said, before lowering her voice, ‘I’ve cleared a whole row for you tonight.’ She winked with her green, shimmering eyelid.

I slid into 3D, the aisle seat on the right-hand side of the plane, behind two young women who were tapping away on iPhones. Around me, businessmen loosened their ties whilst tired families squeezed through the aisle headed for economy class. I buckled up and closed my eyes, focusing on the tapping noise whilst taking deep breaths and clinging to my armrests.

A few minutes later, Janet’s soft voice announced that boarding had been completed. Believing that I was safe, I opened my eyes just in time to see him enter. He looked striking in his navy jumper, the crisp, white shirt collar accentuating his tanned neck. Janet’s flustered colleague directed him to the opposite front row.

‘Seat 1C as you requested, sir,’ she said. ‘My name is Susan. Let me know if you need anything. Anything at all.’

‘Wow, he’s fit,’ whispered the girl in front of me, ‘for an older guy.’ She had stopped tapping.

‘I think he’s fit full stop,’ replied her friend.

My pulse was racing again. I tried to calm myself by focusing on my book ‘Glossophobics – And How to Cure Them,’ but just as I began the chapter on profuse perspiration, our first officer announced that we had missed our scheduled departure.

‘The good news is that ground control have promised to get back to us the in the next five minutes with a new slot,’ he said, chipper as anything. ‘In the meantime, we invite you to sit back and relax – as you can hear we have already started our engines, so we’re ready to push back as soon as we get clearance.’

A flicker of irritation ran across 1C’s perfect profile. He waved Susan over and whispered something in her ear.

‘But sir, our crew are not to blame for the delay,’ she said, raising her voice. ‘There was sleet on the runway at Heathrow this afternoon. It’s shifted the schedule back for everybody.’

‘I must be in London by eight thirty,’ he said in commanding tones, ‘it’s imperative.’

The girl in front of me sighed, stretching her long legs into the aisle.

On the tarmac, the tug and push back crew were arriving. This meant take-off was imminent so I felt a sharp pain in my stomach when the first officer returned to the loudspeaker with another announcement.

‘Your first officer, Adam Cash again. My apologies. Here on the flight deck we’re as eager to get to London as everyone else. But we’ve got our slot now and I’m afraid it’s a little later than expected. Nine forty-five. That should have us on the ground at nine pm local time, again I’m -’

Nobody heard the rest, because now 1C jumped out of his seat, threw his newspaper on the floor and stepped into the galley placing his hand on the cockpit door handle.

‘Sir,’ Janet grabbed his sleeve. ‘Sir, what do you think are you doing?’

‘You can be damned sure we’ll get to London for eight thirty,’ 1C shouted, turning towards the stunned cabin. ‘Fasten your seatbelts chaps, I’ll show that tower what we Brits are made of, even if I have to fly this damned thing myself.’ He bursts into the cockpit slamming the door behind him.

‘I thought those doors were supposed to be locked,’ one of the businessmen shouted at Susan, who giggled and reached for the wall-mounted interphone.

‘What’s happening?’ gasped Long Legs holding a hand to her mouth as the plane started pushing back.

‘Oh my Gosh. It’s a terrorist attack,’ whispered her friend. ‘We’re all going to die. We’re literally all-’

‘Relax,’ I said, leaning back and grabbing my sweat-marked armrests, ‘it’s not a terrorist attack.’

A red-faced businessman tried to move past Janet. ‘You moron,’ he shouted. ‘You’ve just let an intruder enter the cockpit. What the Hell is wrong with you?’

‘Sit down, sir,’ Janet pushed him into his seat fastening his seatbelt. ‘The man you just saw is no intruder. He’s name is Captain Summertime and he is in charge of our flight this evening.’ She looked across her shoulder at the rest of us with her white smile. ‘Captain Summertime likes to play a little joke before take-off. Just to put everyone at ease.’

‘At ease?’ shouted red-face, ‘are you taking the piss?’

‘Just relax,’ said Susan, ‘we’re actually only ten minutes late.’

As the prank dawned on the passengers they smiled and settled down, and soon the comforting sound of ice cubes in tumblers could be heard throughout the cabin.

‘I knew there was something about him,’ said Long Legs. ‘The moment I saw him, I just knew it.’

‘Wow,’ said her friend.

At Heathrow, I waited at the gate until Susan appeared with the rest of her colleagues. There was no sign of Janet or the flight crew.

‘What happened to the others? I asked.

Susan bit her lower lip as four tight-faced executives strode past us boarding the aircraft.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked.

‘I believe there was a complaint, Mrs Summertime,’ she said.

Posted by Mette

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