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Around The Sun: Twanging Nerves

Steve Harrison tells of hours of stress and apprehension at Manchester Airport the month after the Twin Towers attack.

My mother and the Queen’s mum both died in the same week. Mother got little publicity. Two lines in the obituary column of the Spenborough Guardian.

The terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers had occurred the month before mum died. People were fearful of flying.

I flew from Sydney to Manchester with Emirates Air. I figured I would get plenty of leg room, but I was wrong. The flight was packed.

I said my last goodbyes to mom as she lay in an open casket. She was buried alongside my dad. I had a lot of grief going on in my life at that time. I was worried because I didn’t bawl my eyes out like I did at my dad’s funeral. I guess I was all cried out.

I had to be back in Sydney for my divorce hearing in court so two days after the funeral I was back at Manchester Airport. I set out from Yorkshire at 6 am on a cold and frosty morning. By 9.30 am I had checked in and was already on board the Emirates flight to Dubai where I would stop over before catching an onward flight to Sydney.

Again the plane was packed like a sardine tin. 11 am came and went. The plane had not moved so much as an inch.

The cordial cabin staff brought us drinks and apologised for the delay.

By 2 am the passengers were getting restless. Now there was an announcement saying that a breach of security was being investigated. The breach involved a threat to the aircraft. Whoops! Too much information.

I estimated that two thirds of the passengers were Arabs.

Almost all the passengers began making calls on their mobile phones.

The pilot further announced that luggage may be removed from the flight. Furtive glances were exchanged. Suddenly everyone looked suspicious and possible terrorists. The guy to my immediate left in the seat behind looked decidedly Al Queda.

We sat there for another two hours. The atmosphere became tense.

Airline officials came on board. They checked the passengers, singling some out for questioning. The man in the seat behind me was asked if he knew so and so in a certain seat, and was he travelling alone. He had to be one of them!

Some time after 5 pm it was announced that passengers had been removed from the flight. As soon as their luggage had been taken off the plane we would be on our way.

I was beginning to wonder if I really wanted to go on this flight.

At 5.30 pm we were informed we had been cleared for take-off. The aircraft was pushed back from the stand and we started to roll.

We had gone only a few yards when we came to a stop. There was a problem. A mechanical failure. It would be rectified, then we would shortly be on our way.

Further drinks and snacks were offered. A film was screened.

At last, to our immense relief, we were told that this flight was going nowhere. I got off that plane a relieved man.

We were ferried into Manchester by bus and booked into a hotel.

None of us got much sleep that night. Soon it was time for breakfast, then back to the airport.

The tired faces assembling in the departure lounge were now familiar. By 8 am we were in our seats in the aircraft, which were also now familiar.

And yet again the plane did not move.

“Small difficulty,’’ said the pilot. “Soon on our way.’’

Then we started to move again. There was a horrendous scream from the back of the plane. 350 heads turned as one. There was confusion. Hurried conversation. An alarm bell sounded.

The pilot announced that one of the passengers had suffered a heart attack. A medical team was on its way.

I was now thinking the flight was doomed.

The staff were lovely. Again they gave us drinks and snacks, and began to roll the movie we had already seen.

Ah well! We got to Dubai where I spent some hours roaming around the airport. There was a round of applause from the passengers when the plane touched down. I was more than a little weary when we finally arrived in Sydney.

This story is in no way a criticism of Emirates. Despite the circumstances their service was excellent. I would recommend them to anyone as a suprerior airline.

Now come on Emirates. A free ticket would be nice.

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