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Published: August 2nd 2006
It was going to be a long night. We were returning home to Canberra from England on a Air NZ flight via LA and Auckland after being on the road for five weeks. Two legs were over nine hours, and they other two would add another five hours. Almost a complete day in the air! Our seats were quite close to the front of the aircraft, just forward of the door we boarded through, and several seats around us were unoccupied for the London to LA leg, so we were expecting a quiet time. It was not to be.
At first we didn't notice the woman in the centre seats just in front of us. There was nothing obviously unusual about her, even when she was escorted back from the front cabin by one of the stewards - the first time. The second time, the steward was explaining that she was not allowed into the first class cabin. When the steward had left, she turned around to tell us that she had paid full fare, and she should be able to go anywhere in the aircraft. I silently wished her luck, and shrugged.
A little later, she was wandering around the cabin, and ducked around the closed curtain into the forward cabin. On her return, she was being escorted by the purser. She was making some excuse about needing to use the toilet, while he was at his diplomatic best explaining that she was not allowed to go forward. As soon as he had gone, she repeated her mantra 'full fare - go anywhere'.
This time, she spied the spare seat in the row ahead of us, and promptly occupied it and struck up a conversation with the bloke by the window. By the end of the meal, I would have been prepared to wager that there would be a new entry into the mile-high club log when the lights were dimmed, whether he was a volunteer or not.
By now, though, she was restless and appeared agitated, and was walking up and down the aisle. I was ready to go to sleep, and had my eye mask on and ear plugs in, so I missed exactly what happened next. What was obvious was that she had gone forward again, and the crew response had been elevated. This time the purser was accompanied by a member of the flight deck crew, and they were quite uninterested in whether she thought 'full fare - go anywhere', they were giving her the 'don't care - stay there' as she was returned to her seat. More fireworks when they left, but by now there were no sympathetic ears. She settled down.
There's something about aircraft arrivals. I listen to the engines slowing down, and try and predict when they will finally stop. I know that the flight crew will then turn off the seat belt sign, and everyone will try and get into the aisle and grab their bags. It doen't matter that they will now wait in a queue for half and hour to clear immigration, another 15 minutes to find their bags and clear customs and quarantine. Not one bit. Getting into that aisle is the most urgent thing to do.
So I thought that the cabin crew had gone completely bonkers when they told us that we all
needed to resume out seats because there was an 'administrative matter to take care of before we could disembark'. I know that I had no inclination to sit down again - until I looked out into the airbridge and saw that it was full of police. And not just any police. They appeared to be well armed, very well armed. And well equipped - enough to stop a riot. Although I might have imagined that because I was suddenly very keen to sit down. So was Elaine.
The aircraft door opened, and the door was filled by two police - not large police, huge police.
'Sir, have you had a passenger who has been giving you trouble?' - 'Yes, we have.'
'Would you plese point out this passenger to me?'
The purser and two police walk up the aisle to the now quiescent woman.
'Ma'am, we understand there were some difficulties last night.' - 'Oh!'
'Ma'am, we'd like you to come with us.' - 'Do I have to?'
'Ma'am, we'd prefer not to have to arrest you here.'
The response was the saddest and longest 'Oh' I have ever heard.
I suppose it was no surprise when she didn't make it for the next leg.
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