I had just settled into my seat and was looking forward to reading my book. Robert Harris’ ‘Lustrum’ his novel of Cicero which the blurb on the back promised to ‘deliver thrilling yet timeless games of power, sex, fame and Rome…’. Perfect holiday read for a vicar, I thought.
Then the captain’s measured tones came over the public address system: ‘Senior cabin crew to the flight deck immediately’.
I’ve flown enough to know that sort of announcement was unusual. Was the co-pilot’s dinner not what she ordered? Had the ice melted in his diet coke?
Moments later there was flurry of phone calls between the cabin crew and they started to put their jackets on and stand where they had stood for the flight safety talk. If we were going down BA staff would do it smartly.
For someone who suffers from hyper-vigilance I noticed things like the steward who had been smiling and calm a moment before was now breathing more quickly. The ready smile was fix like he had a mouth full of poly filler. I was sure that the note of the engine was different and we were beginning to descend.
Then the captain came on again, his voice a study in calm.
‘Ladies and gentlemen we are back over the Thames estuary. There appears to be some sort of problem with a fuel line to one of the engines and we are returning to Heathrow. When we land we will be met by fire engines and this is quite normal. We should be on the ground in 15 minutes.
Quite normal! Quite normal! There was a rush of thoughts. Although one didn’t want them thoughts of Malaysia airlines and Sharm-el-sheik tumbled in. Fellow passengers, all now tense continued to read their books, study their newspapers and avoid eye contact.
It is surprising how long 15 minutes is when the ground still seems a long way off. Thoughts became prayers. It wasn’t sudden or dramatic enough for a ‘life-flashing’before-your-eyes’ moment but you do think of family and friends, of fun and failures.