How many crew members does it take to run a flight?
It perhaps was the smallest commercial flight ever, and certainly the smallest I have taken. If Kanye West was there, he would have cut me off and said, “Veera, I'm real happy for ya, and Imma let you finish your diary, but the flight from my birthplace Atlanta, Georgia is the smallest flight of all time. Of all time.”
There were ten of us in the flight from Durban to Port Elizabeth (PE, as the locals call it. How original) and it was a packed house. But there was just a one-man crew. Or so it seemed. In fact, I increasingly began to suspect that he was the pilot as well. Only a thin curtain separated us from the cockpit and every time Freddy emerged from behind it he would be laughing as though he had just spoken to the pilot. Nice try Freddy! I was convinced there was no there. It was a deliberate ruse to fool us, to imply there was someone there, to suggest another human presence. I'd read enough Agatha Christies to know that.
I was sure he would put the flight on autopilot when he had to serve us coffee. He was always smiling when he emerged - a conspiratorial smile, as if to say, “Look at the fools there, they don’t know the truth.”
Sometimes, truth sets you free. Sometimes, it shackles you. This was one of those moments. Every time the "pilot" made an announcement, Freddy happened to be on the other side of the curtain. When we were landing, he was nowhere to be seen. You think it was mere coincidence? Then you probably think match-fixing is just another term for arranged marriage and are wondering what the recent fuss is all about.
I confronted Freddy and asked him if there was a pilot. He just laughed and took out the in-flight magazine, flipped through the pages and stopped at 132, which showcased the airline’s fleet. He pointed out one and said, this is what we are flying in right now. It read – Two pilots and two crew.
This time it was I who laughed. Freddy walked to the far end (It took a couple of steps for him to get there), stood near that curtain, turned around and peered quizzically at me. He drew the curtain open. Brave move. I could see knobs, flashing lights, and all that jazz. He put his head inside the cockpit and moved his lips. And laughed. He turned and walked towards me. I froze. He leaned over, extended his arm and gave me a tetra pack of mango juice that I hadn’t asked for. A bribe perhaps? And I accepted it of course. There were four men - two pilots and two crew - on the flight. Freddy, we believe you.
Sriram Veera is a former staff writer at ESPNcricinfo