The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Brid­get Boyd

IN a dream­like state I walked alone to my wait­ing plane. Near­ing the air­craft steps I threw a cool, non­cha­lant glance be­hind me. There was just one per­son there — the cap­tain. He smiled broadly and said a cheery hello.

It was the New Year’s week­end and I had been vis­it­ing my hus­band in Port Hed­land in the north­west of Western Aus­tralia for the first time. Ex­tra flights had been put on to cope with work­ers re­turn­ing to the area af­ter the Christ­mas break. Even so, my Fri­day night flight from Perth had been full of mainly male pas­sen­gers. Squeezed be­tween two burly men I could barely move my arms to turn the pages of my mag­a­zine. The 21/ hour flight went very slowly.

On ar­rival I rev­elled in the space around me as I walked to the ter­mi­nal. Swiv­el­ling my head I took in the flat, red land­scape I had seen so of­ten in pho­to­graphs, thrilled to be able to see it first-hand. On Sun­day, back at the air­port for the flight home, I was just hop­ing for a spare seat be­side me. I was amazed to be told I was the only pas­sen­ger. How could that be when the flight up was so full? Ap­par­ently, with all the ex­tra flights from Perth, some planes were re­turn­ing with few pas­sen­gers. The check-in op­er­a­tor was de­lighted for me; I was ex­cited but not en­tirely con­vinced. Maybe some­one would rush up at the last minute. No one did.

The check-in op­er­a­tor, who also dou­bled as the PA an­nouncer, added to the oc­ca­sion by call­ing, ‘‘Mrs Boyd, your per­sonal jet to Perth is now ready to board.’’

Three flight at­ten­dants stood at the top of the air­craft steps to greet me. They seemed sur­prised I was the only pas­sen­ger and said I could sit any­where. They couldn’t do enough for me. I was piled with mag­a­zines, of­fered drinks and, when I asked what time din­ner was served, as I sud­denly re­alised I was hun­gry, I was told it was any time I liked. The crew had never had a sin­gle pas­sen­ger be­fore. One re­called hav­ing had two pas­sen­gers once, but none had ex­pe­ri­enced just the one.

I spread out in the empty seats de­ter­mined to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence in my own plane. It felt strange, like sit­ting an empty the­atre be­fore the au­di­ence ar­rives. There was only one draw­back — the per­sonal life jacket demon­stra­tion. Feel­ing obliged to main­tain eye contact with the flight at­ten­dant, I didn’t look away once. After­wards I felt con­fi­dent as never be­fore about jump­ing into the wa­ter.

Hav­ing done ev­ery­thing they could, the flight at­ten­dants sat down and chat­ted among them­selves. I kept steal­ing a look over my shoul­der, se­cretly thrilled at the sight of all those empty seats be­hind me. I tried read­ing but the mag­a­zines didn’t seem so al­lur­ing now I could read com­fort­ably. I just gazed out to the blue yon­der won­der­ing whether I would want to fly like this all the time. Would I miss the chance of sit­ting next to an in­ter­est­ing pas­sen­ger in the lottery of seat al­lo­ca­tions?

Sud­denly my thoughts were in­ter­rupted by the feel­ing of the plane de­scend­ing and I re­alised with some dis­may that my short glam­orous flight was about to come to an end. On dis­em­bark­ing I bid farewell to my ‘‘per­sonal staff’’ and walked down the air­craft steps slowly, savour­ing the last few mo­ments.

One of the ground staff, notic­ing me alight­ing alone, asked in­cred­u­lously if I’d been the only pas­sen­ger. I ad­mit­ted I had, and we both grinned at my ridicu­lous good for­tune — and the un­likely chance of it hap­pen­ing again.

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