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8:34am on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013:

1980s Anecdote


I thought I'd posted this anecdote on QBlog before, but searching through the archives it appears that I didn't. So, you get it today.

It dates from the 1980s, and it's not actually my anecdote: it happened to a friend who was doing an MSc while I was doing a PhD. I've repeated it many times verbally, so differences have crept in with each telling (particularly the dialogue and the dollars), but the gist of it remains the same.

So, it's November at Heathrow airport, late at night. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. My friend (who is English) is due to fly to the USA for a short break at one of his friends (whom I think is Belgian or something). He doesn't even know it's Thanksgiving, he just wants to visit New York for a few days.

He's standing in line at the British Airways check-in desk, which is long because it seems that every American in the UK wants to be back home for Thanksgiving. The flight is completely full.

A middle-aged businessman gets to the front of the line. "I'm sorry", says the woman at the check-in desk, "but you're on standby and this is a full flight."

The man is having none of this. "I have to be back in the US for Thanksgiving", he announces. "I have a ticket, I need to be back home by tomorrow."

"I'm sorry", repeats the woman, "but the flight is full. I could put you on the next flight."

The man gets angry. "That's no good to me! I have to be back tomorrow? Understand? Tomorrow! I got a six-hour drive when I get to New York, I can't wait for the next goddam flight!"

"Well if you can persuade someone who has a ticket to give up their seat for you, I can put them on the next flight instead", suggests the woman at the desk, helpfully.

"Goddam limeys!" snarls the man. He turns to the queue. "I got $50 for anyone who'll give their seat on this flight to me!" he announces.

No-one wants to. $50 isn't a lot for the inconvenience even in the 1980s.

"Fine. $100!" barks the man.

Again, no-one responds. Everyone else wants to be on that flight, too.

"Goddamn British goddam Airways! OK!" He gets out his wallet and removes nearly all the notes. "$250 to stay another three hours in this stinking country, that's my last offer."

My friend thinks about this. Actually, $250 looks pretty awesome to a student. He can arrive next day, it won't matter, he's staying with a friend, he can just call.

He puts up his hand. "You can have my seat", he says.

Cursing and ranting, the businessman practically throws the $250 at him as my friend goes to the check-in desk to hand over his ticket. "Never coming back here", says the man. "Never flying BA again."

He checks in and storms off, "Happy goddam Thanksgiving!"

The woman on the check-in desk waits until the American had gone, then says, "So, shall I move you on to the next flight? It's Concorde: you'll be there before he is."

It was indeed Concorde and he sat across the aisle from Ringo Starr out of the Beatles.

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).