freelance writer


A mystery at 30,000 feet

**19th October 2016**

My brother and I are on a Philippine Airlines flight to Manila. I am slowly arriving at the conclusion that as far as airlines go, Philippine Airlines are not the best.

This conclusion is based primarily on the fact that there are no TV screens in the back of the seats, which means all hopes of passing the time by catching up on the latest not-quite-new releases in the world of cinema are dashed. We will have to find another way to navigate the 14 hours ahead of us.

The seats themselves are not unlike what I imagine medieval torture devices were like, if medieval torture devices were covered in a kind of vomit-coloured fabric and smelled like breath. Looking at the back of the seat in front of me, I decide that if I were to punch it (something I do not intend to do) it would set off an all-consuming mushroom cloud of dust and it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for at least one sensitive person to have an allergic reaction and die. The lighting, I say to my brother, Matt, is the opposite of ambient.

In the rows in front of Matt and I are four men. Each of them has a row to themselves. They agreed to pay for their rows after a not insignificant length of time spent bartering with the flight attendant. They are wearing the type of clothes — bad leather jackets, brand new trainers, G-Star jeans, smart casual shirts — that makes me think they might be people of note. Not that their fashion sense invokes in me a sense of awe, far from it. It's just that everything looks new. And I have learned to always be suspicious of people who wear things that look new. One of them has a haircut that is a monument to 1996, the type of haircut you'd only keep if you were someone of note and the haircut was a reference to the thing you did in 1996 that made you someone of note.

My theory, that the foursome be people of note, really takes off when I hear them talking about music. I mouth at Matt, who works in music, that they're talking about music. He too has been listening in on their conversation, clearly also interested (in lieu of being able to catch up on the latest not-quite-new cinema releases) in finding out just what is going on here.

My theory, that the foursome may be people of note, is scuppered slightly when I remember that we are flying economy class on a budget airline. And not just any budget airline, one with no TVs in the back of the headrests. Just as I begin to lose interest in the men I overhear one of them say jokingly: "You're the manager — you sort this out!" They all laugh.

A-ha! I think. They must be people of note! Only people of note (and employees) have managers! And so Matt and I continue listening.

"When was the last time you rehearsed?", says the manager.

"Not for over a year!", jokes the one with the haircut, who I have recently learned is travelling with a violin. By this point I have decided it is almost certain that these four men in this economy class Philippine Airlines cabin with no TVs in the headrests are people of note. The only question that remained is: of all the people of note in the world, which are these?

I gesture to Matt to lower his head behind the seat so we can talk in private.

"I think they're in a band," I say in what I imagine to be a detective-like manner.

"Me too," says Matt, in what I think is an "I have lost interest"-like manner.

"They look a bit like they used to be really famous and now they're just big in the Philippines," I continue.

"Yeah," replies Matt. "Like they could have been a boy band in the '90s. That haircut looks very '90s."

Fast forward a few hours that were not passed by watching the latest not-quite-new releases in cinema and we are at Manila airport waiting for our baggage. Matt is getting annoyed because he doesn't like waiting for baggage. I don't mind it because it's not often in life you can just stand around and do nothing without feeling like you should be doing something else. There is a small group of airport staff, mainly women, standing near us, waiting for the people of note to come out of the toilet, where I have just seen them doing a wee.

After what seems like a lifetime there is a small kerfuffle and we turn to see the airport staff taking selfies with the People of Note, who are by this point surrounded by one security guard and a couple of people wearing lanyards. Lanyards, I have come to realise, are a universal sign that the wearer has a specific job to do. You never see people wearing lanyards that don't have a specific job to do. It just doesn't happen.

The people of note exit the airport and, after a few minutes of waiting for our bags, we follow them, though not in a creepy way. There was only one way out of the airport so whether we liked it or not, we had to follow them.

And then we hear the screaming. Accompanying the screaming are camera flashes in abundance. The people of note have been mobbed by approximately 27 (give or take) screaming young women who are and doing everything they can to take their selfies with the people of note. If you asked your closest friends to greet you at an airport but only a handful could make it and they were all a bit tired, that is exactly what this looked like. It was overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.

Matt and I look on. We are a bit impressed. I will tell mum and dad about this when I next talk to them, I think to myself. We ask a man standing nearby who these people of note are.

"I think they are A1...or something," he says. And like that, the mystery was over. A1 — a British boyband who were big in the '90s — were on tour in the Philippines and we shared a flight with them.

With a final glance over our shoulders, Matt and I load our luggage into our car and make tracks for our hotel, not knowing — or caring — if we would ever see A1 again.

Oliver Pelling