The 11:50 flight from Heathrow T5 to Larnaca, Cyprus was tracking on time and the BA ground staff seemed to have had their act together in terms of trying to get all passengers ready to board. As usual, they were preparing those who genuinely need assistance such as the infirm and those with young children, as well as those who claim infirmity at take off and experience sudden and miraculous recovery at destination where those who board first are made to decant last.
Having arrived at the airport in time to have breakfast in the business lounge and visit my favourite Fortnum & Mason shop where I purchased some honey and 3 packs of Darjeeling tea, with some 45 minutes before take off, I casually made my way to Gate 12 to make myself available to be boarded. Pleasingly, I happened to be first in line at the Fast Track queue, which very often is anything but fast since this seemingly privileged terminology covers just about anyone with a loose connection to some commercial entity or another from the business class ticket holders to anyone with a frequent flyer card with BA, and all of its 250+ affiliated airlines. In fact, those who could not muster any claim to “Fast Track” privilege must be ones who either have never, ever flown anywhere or the very smart frequent flyers who realised the futility of trying to board early since the damn plane will only depart when the late arrivers, last minute shoppers, drunks and those with tortoises on leads have boarded and settled down. I put my briefcase and Fortnum & Mason bag by my side and with a proud and self-satisfied look, took my enviable position at the front of the Fast Track queue.
Finally, all the infirm, pretending to be infirm, and families with little ones were loaded into the lifts and sent on their way to the next level down where they would begin their slow procession down the jetty to be met by cheerful flight attendants who would check their boarding passes one more time, in case by some miracle, one of them destined to Malta or Miami somehow, and for some unknown sinister objective, managed to trick their way as far as the plane door. It was now time for the fast trackers, led by none other than ME, to be invited to come forth and have our passports and boarding passes checked against the passenger list. Upon being beckoned by a cheerful BA attendant, I picked up my briefcase and proceeded towards her with passport and boarding pass in hand. She efficiently checked me in and I took the escalator down one level and marched briskly down the jetty to the plane to find in front of me the last of the wheelchairs and buggy laden passengers. Within a minute or so I was allowed to enter the plane and turn left towards my favourite front row seat near the flight deck where BA in their infinite wisdom have decided that for all European destinations Business Class seats must be the same dimensions as economy class seats in every way except that you get to pay more for them but as a consolation, they will serve you the same meals on slightly more expensive plates, cups and bowls. The exception to this situation is that if you were lucky enough to get a front row seat then you have marginally more legroom to get your knee joints describe a 120-degree angle instead of the typical 90-degree or less in almost all other seats on the plane. This configuration has been a source of irritation to me for a few years now and, considering that I very often forgo the in-flight meals, I lately took to flying economy class and paying a few Euros more to get the ‘emergency door’ seats, where you can actually stretch your legs at a full 180 degrees and still have enough room to wedge a double-decker bus between your feet and the back of the seat in front of you. But, I am telling you my travel secrets now and really shouldn’t!
I stood by my front row F1 seat and began to prepare myself for the coming 5 hours or so of flying. Phone set to flight mode and put away in briefcase; iPad and earphones out of briefcase; jacket off and ready to pass to a flight attendant to hang; briefcase up in the overhead compartment; Fortnum & Mason shopping bag… ‘Hello, where is my precious Darjeeling tea and honey?’
I could see it in my mind’s eye: I picked up my briefcase in front of the Fast Track queue but not the F&M bag! For a ‘very’ frequent flyer like me, the sensible thing to do was to alert one of the flight attendants who would contact the ground crew in the terminal to fetch the missing item. Since I am a very sensible person who many times in the past had proved to possess a capacity for doing insensible things, decided to perform yet another spectacularly stupid act!
I left my passport, boarding pass stub, briefcase with phones, jacket, iPad and earphones on or by seat F1 near the flight deck and wriggled my way against oncoming traffic of boarding passengers out of the plane and up the jetty towards the building. More passengers were descending in the opposite direction and as such; my walk was hampered by their lack of consideration for my dilemma. I finally got to the main building and found the stationary stairs next to the down elevator. I ran up the stairs like my life depended on it and finally came to the level where now the last of the passengers were being checked in. I called out to the same lady who checked me in who turned around and wondered why someone was asking her to be excused.
Me: Excuse me, I left my shopping bag over there
Her: What kind of shopping bag?
Me: Fortnum & Mason
Her: Can you tell me what’s in it?
Me: Honey and 3 Darjeeling tea boxes
Him: Excuse me sir; you cannot leave the plane once you boarded!
Behind me stood one of the two plane door flight attendants out of breath and visibly shaken. At that moment, it dawned on me that I have just committed what you might technically call a ‘fuck up’! However, I wasn’t yet sure what size fuck up it was.
Me: I forgot my shopping bag
Him: You should have asked one of us to retrieve it, sir. You have caused a security alert by running off like that.
Satisfied that the bag was mine, the female ground staffer handed over my precious F&M bag, the highly shaken and irate flight attendant frog-marched me down the stairs and as we reached the top of the jetty he told a security officer who was on the phone to call off the full security alert who grudgingly said something on the phone and gave me the filthiest stare I have ever experienced but nonetheless, relieved the plane was not about to explode. As we walked down the jetty, the flight attendant explained to me the various laws and by-laws I had just violated. By leaving a briefcase and other belongings on the plane and running off in the manner I did was tantamount to planting an explosive device and running off for safety. I was then given a lecture on how lucky I was because had the security apparatus kicked into motion, as it was about to, I would have been detained, questioned and possibly sent to spend some unpleasant time as a guest of one of “Her Majesty’s” corrective facilities. I apologised in a variety of ways and promised to be on best behaviour from then on.
Finally, when the adrenaline seized to course through his veins and he recovered his sense of humour he congratulated me on my turn of speed as he found it difficult to catch up with me on my dash out of the plane.
Over the years, I have read and heard about so many false security alarms at airports or on planes and marvelled at the stupidity of such travellers who cause these alarms, pronouncing such judgments as: ‘don’t these people think?’ and ‘what an idiot, some people should never be allowed to leave their home base’. Now, I can officially say I am a fully paid up member of the Stupid Flyers Club!