I often wonder just how many flights I made in and out of St. Louis in the BAe-3201. There were so many days in which we would fly seven or eight flights to places like Champaign, IL, Decatur, IL, Cape Girardeau, MO, Bloomington, IL, Joplin, MO, Columbia, MO. This story finishes in Marion, IL. We were in the middle of a fast paced day and just loaded up for Marion.
Fast paced means that we typically had about fifteen minutes between opening the cabin door at the completion of one flight to the closing of the cabin door to initiate the next. As I completed the starting of our engines and was signaling for the lineman to remove the chocks another lineman ran out in front of our plane doing the “cut throat” signal; a signal that signifies an emergency shut-down of the engines. I immediately hit the engine stop buttons and waited to learn what the issue was. The issue turned out to be one last passenger that needed to catch the flight. I was not happy at all at the interruption or the use of an emergency signal for such a routine matter. However, the cabin door opened and our late passenger got onboard. I amended the weight and balance report and we once again, started up, only this time, we were about fifteen minutes behind schedule.
Marion was one of our short flights. We could be landing there within twenty-five minutes of take-off on a good weather day. It is in the southern part of Illinois just a few miles north of the Mississippi River. In fact, we could almost find it just by following the river from St. Louis. I do not remember the details of the flight itself, so it must have been uneventful. I do remember what happened after we landed.
We taxied up to the terminal, opened the door and watched as everyone filed out. Everyone that is except that last passenger we took on so unexpectedly in St. Louis. I came out of the cockpit to give him a little, friendly verbal shove so we could board for our return to St. Louis; remember the tight schedules and our tardy condition. I said something like, “Here we are. Thanks for flying with us.” He looked confused and explained to me that he was continuing on with us to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My look must have worried him because he quickly asked if we were going to Cape Girardeau. I told him, “No.” and told him that we were returning to St. Louis. By this time my co-pilot was standing in the aisle beside me, affirming my bad news. In another moment the Marion gate agent came on board wanting to know what the hold-up was; schedule pressures always drove our people. As I explained to our agent the error in putting this Cape Girardeau passenger on our flight he quickly summarized the options he had in getting there. “You can stay on this plane which will take you back to St. Louis. There they will book you on the last Cape flight which should have you there by ten o’clock tonight. I can’t promise that you will certainly get there tonight because things happen like mechanical troubles or possibly the last flight to Cape is oversold. Or, I can call you a cab, it will take about an hour and a half to get there and the airline will cover the cost.” The poor confused man looked up at the three of us looking down at him and asked out loud, “What do you think I should do?” All three of us, without knowing that the others were going to speak, in perfect harmony, pitch and cadence said. “TAKE THE CAB!”