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Around The Sun: Flight To Nowhere

Steve Harrison tells of a nervous day at Manchester airport in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist acts which destroyed the New York Trade Centre.

Passengers were packed like sardines on the Emirates Airways flight which was due to leave Manchester at 11 am. But departure time came and went, and the plane did not budge so much as an inch.

The cabin crew apologized for the slight delay and brought us drinks. We waited, and waited… Every half hour an announcement was made. There was a small problem which was being resolved.

By 2 pm we were getting restless. This was happening in the post-9/11 days. Now there was a more detailed announcement. There had been a breach of security. Two passengers were being investigated by the CIA, Scotland Yard and Interpol.

Whoops! Far too much information.

Two thirds of the passengers on the plane were Arabs. Suddenly everyone was talking on mobile phones.

The plane’s captain said in an announcement that a decision was being made whether or not to remove two people from the flight, along with their luggage. The passengers exchanged furtive glances. Suddenly everyone looked suspicious, a possible terrorist. The guy in the seat behind me looked decidedly Al Quada.

We waited there for another two hours, the atmosphere becoming increasingly tense.

Officials were now on board the plane, systematically checking each passenger. The chap behind me was asked if he knew so-and-so in such-and-such a seat. And was he traveling alone? I knew he was one of them.

About 5 pm the captain announced that certain passengers had been identified and removed from the flight. As soon as their baggage had been taken off we would be on our way.

By now I had begun to wonder if I really wanted to go on his flight. What if the baggage could not be identified?

Passengers were now talking, bonding. We were all very edgy. Speculation was running riot. At 5.30 pm we were told we were cleared for take-off. The plane was pushed back from its stand and we started to roll.

We had not gone very far when we shuddered to a halt.

Now the pilot announced that there was a mechanical failure. There would be a delay while a fault was rectified. We would soon be on our way.

More drinks and snacks were served. A movie was screened. But we were still on the ground in Manchester.

Eventually, to sighs of relief from everyone, we were told we were going nowhere. We were taken by bus to a hotel in Manchester.

None of us got very much sleep that night. All too soon we were back in the airport departure lounge, all with tired faces. By 8 am we were in our now-familiar seats on the plane, waiting for a 9 am departure.

Again we waited. A small difficulty, said the pilot. Fortunately this was not a long wait, and we were heading for the runway.

Suddenly there was a scream from the rear of the plane. Three hundred and fifty faces turned as one. There was confusion. Urgent muffled conversation. The plane came to a halt.

The captain, sounding sheepish, announced that there would be another delay. A passenger had had a heart attack. A medical team was on its way.

The cabin staff were again brilliant. They served drinks, food. We saw again the film we had watched the day before…

And eventually we took off for Dubai…

From there I flew on to Sydney. An 18 hour journey had stretched out into a 50-hour test of nerves and patience. When we finally landed in Sydney there was the next best thing to a standing ovation.

None of the above is meant as criticism of Emirates, a superior air carrier. I would be only too pleased to fly with them again.

So if you have any complimentary tickets going Emirates….

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