Travel: Simon Calder

After many delays, the `Caledonian 300' resisted air rage and just applauded

IN A week when the phrase "Airtours Twelve" entered the travel vocabulary, Dennis Hill writes from his hotel in Goa to report a less celebrated but more heartening episode involving a group of people I shall dub "the Caledonian 300".

Caledonian Airways flight 26 was due to leave Gatwick for Goa at 4.15pm on Friday last. When Mr Hill arrived from his home at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, he found the flight delayed because the inbound plane was late. Once the passengers were finally on board, a series of events took place which Mr Hill describes entertainingly:

"No sooner were the passengers loaded and welcomed than the captain had the embarrassment of telling us to get off. Apparently the ground engineers found it necessary to inflate the olio (whatever that is). With a full load of fuel and passengers, the weight was too great for this to be accomplished.

"Boarding for the second time, the captain explained that because we had missed the departure slot, our flight would hang around at the end of the runway to be fitted in between the scheduled flights.

"Eventually clearance was obtained. The TriStar surged down the runway, suddenly to be thrown into a dramatic emergency stop with brakes fully applied and reverse thrust operating. The captain immediately assured us that there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, but that air traffic control had found us too near another plane and had ordered the TriStar to stop.

"Now the captain had to break the news that the emergency stop at 100mph caused overheating of the brakes and it would take 30-45 minutes for them to cool.

"Sometime later the captain announced: `I really don't know whether to laugh or cry - the fire tender has got stuck in soft ground under the port wing and we now await a breakdown truck to tow it away.' Eventually the tender was removed, and a smooth take-off and normal flight to Goa ensued."

A recipe for air rage once the drinks trolley had done the rounds? Not a bit of it. "The behaviour of the passengers was exemplary: no outward display of unease, no jeers or caustic comments. The applause that greeted our airborne state was supportive, not derisive. It made an exciting start to our holiday."

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