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We’re waiting in the Airbus occupying that liminal space between being grounded on uncertain land and being airborne in uncertain turbulence when a red faced, hay haired passenger decides to kick off about his recent downgrade from business to cattle class.

He protests and over protests; takes photos of the staff and posts the incident on Twitter all in a matter of minutes. #crapairlines is soon trending in our plane and somewhere down the fuselage some troll added fuel to the fire with their #bolshystaff, #nationalscandel and #shootthecollaborators exhortations.

The crew are not at all happy with having their photos taken (they didn’t ask to be in his selfie after all) and soon after his images start being liked on Instagram. You can’t help but wonder who else is sharing the media feed of his social indignation.

A large policeman arrives on board soon afterwards. The conversation remains calm but eventually he’s escorted off the plane, he’s dispossessed of his camera on the tarmac, his bags unloaded and everything reverts to its liminal normal.

Except it doesn’t. The crew claim to know nothing about the recent event, denying it’s even happened.

No, there was no issue with a downgrading; no, no passenger was removed; no, no policeman was on board. What seems to be the trouble sir?” they ask me when I persist in quizzing them about the delay. “It’s only because of some delayed paper work, nothing else.”

But what about the big red haired noisy guy who was complaining about his downgrade? “He never existed sir, and anyway, why would anyone accept a downgrade? What a bizarre concept sir. Are you sure you haven’t over done it with your duty frees?”

Eventually the cabin door is shut, we sit and watch the recorded flight safety video and peace and quiet returns to the passenger and crew.

Except it doesn’t. Someone at the back calls out, I can see him on the wing! And

 

passengers heads swivel this way and that in unison  to catch sight of the disappeared passenger allegedly standing on the wing of the Airbus. To our consternation, we see the very same passenger stood astride the wing, flailing at some invisible force in front of him, his camera swinging this way and that.

There’s a kerfuffle at the front of the fuselage, an air steward opens the door and a line of air stewardesses flee the cabin, down the steps to the waiting bus. We attempt to look out again

to see the passenger but again, he’s gone. No sign of him whatsoever.

 

Some security guards stroll up and down the gangway and a few of us quiz them

 

 

What’s

happened? What’s happened? Where are the stewardesses? Did you see the man on the wing? All questions are met with detached bemusement by the security guards.

None of them can speak Arabic so they mutter something in English which we don’t understand , shrug their shoulders and continue their patrolling of the aisles. Before long, we quieten down, read our newspapers, peer at our mobiles or put on the shades over our eyes and everything returns to normal.

Except it doesn’t.

“There’s now no sign of the crew, the aisles are being patrolled by security guards speaking a foreign language and they’ve brought in two dogs who are sniffing their way around the fuselage; this way and that, under this blanket, around that piece of hand luggage, they’re tireless in their search. For what, no-one knows and no-one’s asking.”

Too much has happened in the last half hour and everyone tries to settle back in their seats, load up the inflight entertainment and act as if everything’s normal

But it’s not.

The passengers are sat stock still, subdued. The children have stopped crying, the only sound you hear is the constant sniffling of the dogs searching, always searching. A passenger gets out of her seat, stretches her legs and decides to

 

and wanders either up or down the aircraft, keeping her head

 

down, not wanting to raise the suspicions of the security guards.

Before long, we stop looking at the passengers leaving their seats and fail to notice that

 

they’re not returning to them. We adjust to the ever changing normality
rapidly.
It’s
just
become
normal, waiting in a plane of steadily disappearing
passengers and crew, with the engines

still running.

After an
hour or so,
there’s only three of
us left in the fuselage, either intently watching a video (old woman 2 rows down from me),
looking out of the window (teenager sat on the seat bank parallel to me)

 

 

 

or writing copious notes (me).

 

 

 

At this point a guard walks up to me

and