My immediate concern, however, was for Mexicana Airlines to get us back to the States. To Miami, in fact, where we were due to catch our flight home to London. We'd left a reasonable margin to make the connection, but when I'd mentioned our arrangements to some American friends they'd thought us crazy: "Mexicana? Know what we call 'em, Manana airlines, never a flight on time."
Most of our fellow passengers were American holiday-makers heading home, and I think they were all quite surprised when the Mexicana plane pushed back from the gate, right on time. As it taxied towards the runway I thought to myself how unfounded these stereotypes are. Then suddenly it turned around and taxied right back again. A stewardess announced that we were in for a brief delay. She gave no reason. We could not disembark.
"Pilot spotted something wrong during his final instrument check," the American in front of me told his wife. I felt grateful for the pilot's vigilance. "Only trouble is," the man went on, "the mechanics they got down here can't fix a damn thing." Whatever Mexicana's other shortcomings it knew how to take care of a plane-load of delayed passengers. There was no grudging distribution of peanuts. The cabin crew just announced that everything was on the house, and then made a determined effort to wear out the aisle carpet with the drinks trolley.
But even the attractions of free booze began to pall. Just as I was proposing a farewell toast to our London flight, which would be taking off from Miami any minute, the engines rumbled into life, and our pilot made an announcement.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he announced, in pleasantly accented English. "Mexicana would like to apologise for the delay to your flight. This was caused by a problem with the pilot. A few moments before take-off he felt a pain in his chest. In case it might be a heart attack, he decided to turn back." There was a murmur of sympathy from the passengers.
There's nothing closer to the heart of your average American than a coronary. The delay had clearly been caused by Mexicana hunting around for a replacement. The announcement continued: "The pilot was rushed to hospital but the doctors could find nothing wrong. In fact I'm happy to announce he made a full recovery. And how do I know this? Because, ladies and gentlemen, this pilot - it was me!" At that moment he put his foot down and the plane went hurtling down the runway, with the roar of its engines drowning out the terrified screams of all its passengers.