Travel: My private jet to Varna

It was the ultimate solo flight and ego trip: Ian Russell was the only passenger on a scheduled flight to Bulgaria
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The Independent Online
It should have been obvious to me straightaway. There was no check- in desk at Edinburgh airport for AirVia flight VIM 624 to Varna. Yet the early morning flight was listed on the departures screen, so at least my charter trip to Bulgaria's Black Sea coast wasn't a complete mystery to everyone. But why wasn't the usual motley queue snaking its way forward with just one thought - to head for the duty-free as soon as they had got rid of their cases?

There were long queues for flights to Jersey and Brussels, but as I squinted in vain at luggage labels on suitcases strewn around the busy terminal, it slowly dawned on me that maybe there was no one else flying to the city of Varna.

The Servisair representative confirmed my suspicions. "Varna? Oh, there's only one passenger, I think." "Er, but that happens to be me." "Right, just wait until we clear these other flights and we'll get your case."

Half an hour later I got the call, a shout really, across the now almost deserted check-in area to step forward with my baggage and be officially confirmed as the solitary soul boarding flight VIM 624.

The young girl behind the counter had more of a sense of humour than her colleague: "Smoking or non-smoking?" she asked drily.

Upstairs in the departures lounge, my scheduled departure time drew ever closer. There had been no announcement, but the flight was shown on the screen. Five minutes before the 157-seater jet was due to take off I decided it was time to start asking questions. But just as I rose from my seat a man with a mobile phone burst in and loudly requested the passenger for the Varna flight to make himself known. I was speedily ushered through an exit door by my escort who, 20 yards down the corridor, passed me on to someone else, also in mobile-phone mode. I was hurried downstairs and out of the building into a waiting Transit minibus.

"There's just you," said my minder. "This doesn't happen very often."

It felt more wonderful than weird to be the only one climbing the steps to the big white, purple and green machine waiting to whisk me (plus five cabin crew and three flight crew) to eastern Europe. The smiling head of cabin crew greeted me with typical Bulgarian humour: "Hello, and welcome to your own private jet, sir."

Being the solo passenger for the following four hours proved to be a rewarding experience, with the cabin crew all anxious to improve their English. They explained that this was their last flight of the season; normally they'd return home with an empty aircraft. Because I was heading for Varna on a one-way ticket it was convenient for the airline to accommodate me - as long I found another route home.

I did, a week later, from an airport farther down the coast. Alas, this time I was just one of a horde of Scots returning home.

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