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.