Dom Joly: Before take-off, I look for an appetising passenger

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I'm finally in Buenos Aires after an overlong flight that was delayed in Sao Paulo. I normally appreciate the pilot giving me information. If the plane suddenly starts bumping around like a fairground ride, I quite like him coming on the intercom and saying something soothing like: "No worries, ladies and gentlemen. We're just having a bit of turbulence, but as I'm the best pilot in the fleet, this is no cause for concern whatsoever." If they don't say anything, then I watch the stewardesses obsessively and try to catch them off guard, spotting the moment their rictus grins suddenly turn into blind panic when they think they're alone in the galley.

In Sao Paulo, however, we were just about to take off when the pilot came on the intercom to tell us that there was a warning light flashing and that he was going to have to ask the ground staff to take a look.

We waited a while and then back came his slightly uncertain voice. He actually sounded a touch nervous. "Sorry, everybody, the ground staff have had a little look but at the moment a valve seems to be not working and we don't know why. Bear with us..." This kind of information doesn't relax me. I don't want to know about valves and things that aren't working being inspected by Brazilian ground staff. I'd prefer he lied and just said that air traffic control had made us miss the take-off slot and there was nothing he could do. If in doubt, always blame air traffic control – they are always doing bad things.

Truth be told, I was maybe more than usually nervous as we were about to fly over Uruguay to get to Argentina. Now, I know very little about Uruguay except that this is the country from where the plane that crashed in the Andes came from where everyone ate each other. I started to look at the man next to me. He seemed a suitable candidate for being on the menu if things took a turn for the worse. He was a juicy-looking businessman who seemed quite well preserved, but with plenty of meat on his bones. As I was busy sizing up which part of him would taste best, he looked up and our eyes met. There was no way that he could know what I was planning, but he gave me a curiously aggressive stare before raising the little dividing partition between us.

This was actually a very good thing, as I didn't have to do my usual rigmarole. If you're flying in business class, you always get plonked next to a total stranger, each of you facing the other's way so your faces are awkwardly close over the divide. Both of you can see that there is a partition available and each has a button to activate it. It's a little rude, however, to just sit down and raise it immediately. It's a bit like moving into a house and immediately putting up a fence before you've even unpacked. Neither of you wants to make the first move, but both of you desperately want the thing to be raised as you want your privacy.

I normally go through an elaborate ritual where I pretend to be some dumbo who has never flown before and I try all the buttons. First the light on-off button, then the one that releases your screen, then the table and finally... press the button that makes the screen go up and you express surprise as though you didn't know that this was what it did, giving them a quick rueful smile as their face disappears and victory is yours.

The pilot came back on the intercom: the valve was fixed and we were off. As we headed towards Uruguay, I slipped a plastic knife from the tray into my pocket – I'd need something to carve with.