Eve Celestiale Flight EC 1903

This story was written at an altitude of about 35,000 feet somewhere in the sky between Delhi and Bangalore. If is dedicated to a very special ‘friend’ who has facets to his character that I never knew existed.

My other observation is this: Jet Airways is so different from Eve Celestiale. Buy-on-board sandwiches are much better than the imagined version of veal. As for the wine, Jet announces ‘madira peena mana hai’!

–Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

All smiles and flourish, Annabelle helped the little girl liberate the folding table off her arm rest. She looked just like an angel in her Paris-designed blue and white uniform. She even smiled like one. Sharing a wink with the little girl’s mom in the next seat, she asked her, “Would the young Miss Carla like the veal, the chicken or the tofu for main course?”

More angels like Annabelle dispensed goodwill in the rest of the cabin. Gentle whiffs reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay floated over headier fumes of brandy, rum and vodka. One row down from where Anabelle served Carla her chicken, ice tinkled happily against glass as whisky flowed smoothly over them. Muffled thanks met brighter smiles. Airline hospitality was being rolled out in full blast as Eve Celestiale Flight EC 1903 sliced through the dark night.

Up on the flight deck, perfectly at home in the glow of the flight display units and the usual bank of dials and indicator lights, Captain Francois Thierry smiled at his first officer and co-pilot, Ted Collins. It was time for the refreshing drink they had asked for just over a minute ago.

As Captain Thierry reached with out his right hand and twisted the little white knob which released the latch on the door to the flight deck, the door opened and admitted one of the cabin angels. She had a radiant smile on her pretty face, a special wink for the young first officer, and a tray of drinks: soda and lime for the captain and a diet ginger beer for the first officer, dispelling any ill-founded rumors that airline pilots drank like the proverbial fish.

“Thank you, Heidi!” Captain Thierry prided himself on being the polite gentleman, even though he had just transferred to this route. “Rough night out there in the pen?”

“No, captain! We got a wonderful set of passengers in business class tonight. Just the kind I would have hand-picked for a fine night like this.” Heidi’s smile brightened, a result of the fine night and the captain addressing her by first name. Unlike some of the younger pilots she had had to deal with in recent times, she thought to herself as she left.

“Drink up, young man!” Captain Thierry told the smiling young man in the right hand seat, “We have that weather alert to deal with. Let us hope we don’t have to switch on the seat belt sign and keep it on for too long if we do. Wouldn’t want to ask a pretty young lady like Giselle to strap herself into one of those horrid crew seats for too long would you?”

If Heidi had heard that remark, she would have that she was not the type to stay strapped into anything for too long. However, since she had not heard it, she said nothing over her sweet sweet smile.

As Heidi came out of the flight deck, she almost ran into Bambi the purser. He was standing in the space near the door, counting out money in different currencies and denominations, arranging them in what he called the Special Bag to help him deal with the in-flight duty-free shopping. In his best avuncular voice, he asked Heidi, “All OK in there, dearie?”

In her two months with Bambi, there were two things she never found out about him. She knew that no grown man would allow himself to be name-tagged with a famous animated deer’s name without reason, and could never figure out why he did. Secondly, she never found out where the obviously European purser acquired his strange Indian accent. As for being called ‘dearie’, she did not care much for that either. Heidi always felt she had the best retort to that one right on the tip of her tongue, but it never come out. Instead, she consoled herself with her sweet smile and went off to attend to a call from a passenger.

In the fifteen years that Bambi had been flying with Eve Celestiale, he had never had that strange feeling he had about Heidi In fact, he had even shared it with his wife. He had said, “That new girl Heidi Something raises the hackles on me. I have no idea why. She has history. Mark my words, she’s got history. I just can’t place my finger on it…”

Thirty five thousand feet below, an air traffic controllers’ strike was in full swing. Airports in the region began to shut down normal operations and restrict themselves to the bare minimum of landing scheduled flights. Towers paid no attention to any pleas for clearance to take off. Overflights were left to fend for themselves. Everyone in the airlines business knew that the ATC’s wanted a small pay hike. No one considered the possibility that someone somewhere was playing for greater stakes.

Ted Collins did not feel well. He felt lucid and sleepy at the same time. He felt like he had to vomit but did not want to. He wondered why they over-chlorinated diet ginger beer. He looked at the captain and tried to ask him why he looked like a smiling rooster. Reality kicked in for a while and told him that something was very very wrong. The last thing he remembered was Captain Thierry speaking to him calmly in a language he could not understand.

After making sure that the chloral hydrate had done its work on First Officer Collins, Captain Thierry executed the next well-memorized movement. He flicked on the “fasten seat belt” and made some minor adjustments to the little knobs that made up the autopilot. Almost imperceptibly, the heavy Airbus banked to the left as it began to slowly leave its designated flight path.

About a thousand nautical miles away, Colonel X sipped his Glenfiddich, looked at his watch and smiled at his colleagues. In two hours they would have a hundred rich tourists and a very expensive aircraft to bargain with. As long as the ATC strike held out, there was no way anyone would know what had happened until it was simply too late. If all else failed, he held Francois’ wife prisoner, to take part in the demonstration of her captors’ will to negotiate loyalty.

Meanwhile, Bambi’s world-savvy hackles refused to settle down. There was something that did not feel right tonight. First, there was that look on Heidi’s face. And why did Anabelle, who was flying with them for the first time, once address Heidi as “Habibti” and quickly apologize with a strange, guilty look on her face? Even though Annabelle might not have known it, Bambi spoke fluent Arabic and knew what that meant. Still, he tried to shake off the uneasiness and told himself, “Oh, come on Bambi! You’ve been reading too many thrillers!”

Soon, Bambi noticed other little things. Heidi had taken a tray of drinks to flight deck. It had not come back as it should have. He had not heard a single reassuring “all-is-well” message from the captain. Very few pilots who enjoyed themselves could ever resist making at least one of those on any given flight. The seat belt signs had come on and stayed on for too long. Apart from that slight bank some time ago, the airplane might have been stationary on tarmac for all the turbulence it had encountered.

And then the unexpected happened! Bambi thought he saw a flash in the darkness outside. He slid into an empty row, scooted over to a window and took a good look. As he watched, he saw a sleek fighter jet fly up to his plane and throttle down to keep pace with the airliner. As realization hit him, he knew that another fighter would take its place on the other side as well. Francois Thierry would now be told to fly around and land where told, or else! Bambi hoped with all his heart that Captain Francois Thierry, if that was his real name, would not choose the or-else!

What Colonel X in all his pride and self-importance should have been told by his informers, what Francois Thierry should have known as a pilot, and what would have Heidi and Annabelle pulling out their own hair was this: It was common practice in that part of the world to have the military monitor civilian aircraft. When the ATC strike kicked in, with everyone in all the control towers in one area demanding the same pay hike in one voice, world-wise generals had sat up and watched the skies with their electronic eyes. And when a commercial airliner had deviated from its filed flight path, they had acted.

Otherwise, who would have guessed that a commercial airliner would be hijacked by its own captain and two of the cabin crew working together?

In the meantime, Bambi decided wisely, little Carla should have her candy-flavored ice cream while her mom enjoyed a Babycham. Appreciative passengers should be persuaded to try the 2006 Pinot Riesling from Australia. Very good vintage, that one. And in a while, the cabin lights would be dimmed and blankets handed out. After all, for as long as it lasted, it should be airline hospitality at its best on Eve Celestiale EC1903.

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  • Integra  On April 13, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Do I see a story hidden within a story?

  • Michael  On April 17, 2012 at 1:23 am

    Captain FT doesn’t really know to fly. The crew are normally in charge.It is a mutually satisfying relationship. But one of these days Captain will parachute down in mid flight abandoning the crew.

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