PASSPORT: That man trying to chat through your flight - he probably owns the plane

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The Independent Travel
ALTHOUGH he has had a very hectic two-and-a-half years setting up Debonair, Franco still enjoys flying around and uses his own airline where possible.

"The other day I was on one of my flights," he says. "As the aircraft was taxiing away the flight attendant announced `Ladies and gentlemen there may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there are only four ways to leave this aircraft so please pay attention!' Then when we landed, she said `Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated until the plane comes to a standstill and all the signs are turned off, then you may leave in the usual way: kicking, biting and scratching.' I laughed for about ten minutes."

When Franco interviews cabin staff he stresses that he wants them to have fun. "I always say you must take your job seriously but remember to have a sense of humour, to try to get away from the usual boring routine where the passengers feel they are being lectured and don't really listen."

Franco behaves like any other passenger when he is travelling. "I stand in line when I board the aeroplane and just sit quietly in the corner".

Franco holds an Italian passport with British and American residency. "I was in Italy recently and sitting next to an old southern Italian man who was on his way to Milan to visit a son who had done rather well for himself. This guy was a peasant, he had never been on an airplane before. When the flight attendant came along, he thought she was a ticket collector and tried to give her his ticket. He also tried to open the window because he was a bit hot".

These experiences are all written in a book that always travels with him. "I keep notes of all the things I should do within my airline. When you are travelling you meet all kinds of interesting people. When I fly I look for ways to make improvements."

Franco says that he always talks to other passengers, albeit anonymously. "I need to understand them and try and learn what people want from flying, to find out what made them choose that airline."

His gift of the gab worked well on a trip to Tunisia. "I had been out in the desert watching some filming and I got very sunburnt and decided to return to my hotel," he says. "But then I ran out of petrol about five miles from Djerba where I was staying. I waited on the roadside and eventually a lorry came along. I asked him in French for a lift and he motioned for me to jump in the back among a big load of watermelons.

"There was a very good-looking European woman also perched there. I asked her if she spoke French or German or Italian. She said `if you are going to tell me something stupid then I don't speak any of those languages. If you have something intelligent to say then you can say it to me in English.'"

That woman is now Mrs Mancassola.

Franco Mancassola is chairman of Debonair, tel: 01582 634300.