A brief cabin encounter

Image of Tyler Brûlé

Most weeks I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to write about. By the time Wednesday morning rolls around, I set out for my run with a rough intro in my head and by the time I’m about to hit the fifth kilometre, I’ve mapped out the first two paragraphs.

Worry not: I’m not one of those people who jogs with a Dictaphone or some weird contraption strapped to my head that transcribes what I’m saying. No, outdoor running is almost always a gadget-free affair.

This week is a little different. I wanted to write about the new and rather dreadful ordeal of sitting down to dinner in a nice restaurant and being read a series of disclaimers by your waiter rather than being asked what you’d like on the side (much more on this in a moment). But instead I became witness to an altogether different dinner-table tableau when I settled in for my flight to Vancouver.

Allow me to set the scene. It’s Tuesday afternoon. London is having its second consecutive warm, sunny day in eight months and I’m walking on to a British Airways jumbo (that has seen better days) along one of those endless finger jetties. If you’re not familiar with these, they’re the spidery appendages that stretch out from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 departures concourse (because it was no doubt cheaper to build these than extend the concourse and have normal gates). On a warmish day they turn into stinky greenhouses as hundreds trudge to the aircraft.

On board I take my seat, organise my reading material, answer a few emails and check out the rest of the cabin. For a weekday (read business) flight there are a lot of couples and everyone seems to be well north of 60, chatty (mostly jolly Canadians) and heading home.

We’re all ready to push back when the captain comes on and explains that someone hasn’t made the flight (more on this in a moment as well). The bags are going to be offloaded – but we’re only in for a five-minute wait. Fifteen minutes later the bags are found, the hold is closed and we jolt backwards for the taxi out to the runway.

As the aircraft climbs over London, I go about my business while the other passengers slip off to put on pyjamas, apply moisturiser and pull out electronic devices of various sizes. Shortly after the menus do the rounds, drinks are topped up and lunch is served.

I decide to wait a bit as I’m busy working – but still, I keep an eye on the service, the chatter and the generally chirpy mood in the cabin. I’m aware that food is being warmed up, crockery stacked, linen being unfolded and tables being set. After a while I get the sense that there’s a lot of extra arranging and styling going on across the aisle in seat 2K. I don’t bother glancing over as I assume that the lady opposite is fussy about her table settings (why shouldn’t she be?) and is rearranging the glassware. Or perhaps she’s a BA service manager doing a random inspection and that’s why she’s also taking pictures of her tabletop set-up.

At this point I lean back in my seat, press my back against the cushion and peer out from around the wing-back-style headrest.

Over the years I’ve relayed some rather bizarre scenes from 36,000ft above the earth. You might recall the alarming situation where I woke up across from a man who was wearing just saggy undies and stood up to get dressed in the middle of the cabin – like it was the most normal thing in the world. Or the South African miners who did the same on a Cathay flight down to Sydney. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the man who farted all the way from Zürich to Tokyo – almost killing me and my colleague Ariel, along with 300 other passengers and crew. Nevertheless, I wasn’t quite prepared for the stuffed toy leprechaun staring back at me from across the aisle.

Now you might be thinking I was mistaking this little character for Willie Walsh, but on closer inspection it was nothing more than a bucktoothed tiny chap in a green get-up with a shock of ginger hair, smiling for the camera.

I tried to look away but I found the whole photo shoot so fascinating. The owner propped him up against a tumbler, moved him around a bit, took a few snaps and then picked him up, gave him a wee squeeze and stuffed him beside her.

Clearly this wasn’t the first time the leprechaun had done a spot of modelling. I was tempted to ask what the whole little ritual was all about but then thought better of it. Of course I spent the rest of the flight wondering if it was all part of an art project that we’re likely to see installed at Tate Modern. Or was it just a case of nerves, and the red-headed elf was the passenger’s lucky charm for transatlantic crossings?

I was hoping to pose more questions in this column (and to discuss food disclaimers and how people get lost before flights) but we’ll get to those next week. In the meantime, if you have thoughts on the leprechaun, please let me know.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.