Ah don't be shy now Boris, sure all we want is a wee song

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The Independent Online
THERE USED to be a television commercial for, I think, Air Canada, which took the line that people had such a good time on board Air Canada flights that when they reached their destination they had no desire to get off. In the commercial you saw the doors of the plane opening but no one leaving; instead, you could hear the popping of champagne corks and banging of balloons from inside, as if passengers and crew were joined in some out-of-season Hogmanay.

This scenario is, I am willing to bet, quite different from any real-life flight any of us has ever had. My experience has always been that however much people have enjoyed themselves on board, they are so anxious to get off at the end of the flight - or at least to steal a march on their fellow passengers - that they will jump to their feet and crowd the gangways holding their hand luggage, even though it means standing in a stationary queue for the next quarter of an hour.

Occasionally, if the flight has been a difficult or unnerving one, people will clap as the plane lands and stay quietly in their seats for a while, as if in prayer and meditation, but pretty soon the urge to rush out of the plane and get to the luggage carousel in order to hang around waiting for another quarter of an hour overcomes them, and off they go. Much though I regret it, I have never, ever, seen anything like the Air Canada ad.

Until Boris Yeltsin landed in Ireland the other day and refused to get out of his plane.

The people who made the Air Canada ad must have rubbed their eyes in glee when they saw the Russian plane with its gangway ready, the reception committee ready, and everyone ready, except Mr Yeltsin, and the silent hours passing and Mr Yeltsin not getting off.

It was like an eerie reversal of that normal airport situation, when the passengers are all there but the plane has not turned up, and the announcers regret the continued delay to Flight 4756.

In this case, it was the plane that was there and the passenger who was mysteriously delayed. 'We regret the continuing late arrival of Boris Yeltsin, due to circumstances beyond our control. As soon as we have de-

tails we will make a further

announcement.'

The reason eventually given was that Mr Yeltsin was too tired to leave the plane, and his deputy premier appeared instead to do the honours.

Everyone then went on to say that Mr Yeltsin must be too drunk to get off. I am not sure I agree. It might be true. On the other hand, there are many other possible explanations which have not been considered, and I would like to list them now. See which one you prefer.

1 Mr Yeltsin was trying to buy some duty-free alcohol, but the in-flight attendants refused to accept any of his credit cards.

2 Mr Yeltsin was trying to change his money into Irish punts, and there was a terrible long queue at the bureau de change.

3 Mr Yeltsin's passport had gone absolutely and totally missing.

4 Mr Yeltsin had taken the six novels short-listed for the Booker Prize as his in-flight reading, and had sunk into a coma from which no one could wake him.

5 Mr Yeltsin was refusing to get off the plane until ex-President Jimmy Carter came to talk him off it and promise him safe asylum anywhere in the world.

6 Mr Yeltsin had heard of the traditional Irish attitude to time, which tends towards the informal, and was trying to play along with local customs.

7 Mr Yeltsin was locked in the toilet and was trying to release himself by operating the light switch.

8 Mr Yeltsin had just discovered that the flight from Washington had been conducted not by the pilot, as he had fondly imagined, but by the pilot's eight-year-old son, and had gone into deep shock.

9 Mr Yeltsin had just been told he would have to meet Michael Mates in a debate on Northern Ireland.

10 Mr Yeltsin was afraid it was a trap and that he was about to be lured on to This Is Your Life.

Solution: Mr Yeltsin was not on the plane at all. He had missed the Aeroflot connection and was coming on a later flight from which he would be smuggled into the first plane by the back door as soon as he arrived. Meanwhile, on the first plane, they were playing desperately for time . . .

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