Voices: Stanley Johnson: It’s true I caused a BA flight to be cancelled – here’s why I’m glad I did it

Departing soon:  Stanley Johnson preparing to leave British Airways flight 2461 from Malaga, which was diverted to Heathrow (Richard Davenport)
Departing soon: Stanley Johnson preparing to leave British Airways flight 2461 from Malaga, which was diverted to Heathrow (Richard Davenport)

It was all going swimmingly until we began our descent into Gatwick.

As we crossed the French coast, the pilot came on the PA to announce that unfortunately there was a plane stuck on the runway beneath us and we were going to have to circle while they sorted things out. Ten minutes later, he made another announcement: “The plane on the runway below us is still stalled,” he told us. “We are going to have to divert to Heathrow.”

As we landed at Heathrow, the captain informed us that after we had taken on some fuel, we would make the “short hop” back to Gatwick. He went on to invite any passengers without luggage in the hold to disembark at Heathrow if they wanted to. That sounded like a very good idea to me.

I grabbed my bags from the rack and went to the forward entrance of the plane. Two other passengers joined me and the three of us stepped out of the door onto the top of the metal stairs which were already in place.

All we had to do, I imagined, was for the three of us to wait for the ground transport to arrive to take us into the terminal building. That was the mistake.

For reasons which I am still unable to grasp, the airport authorities decided that even though the three of us, responding to the captain’s invitation, were ready and willing to disembark, this could not be allowed to happen.

Apparently, since Gatwick was the scheduled destination, everyone would have to get off in Gatwick – and that included the three of us, even though we were no longer physically in the plane but standing on the platform outside the cockpit.

I am not by nature, a troublemaker. A number of police vehicles for some reason gathered at the foot of the steps. Lots of police officers were talking on their walkie-talkies. I suspect that I would, in the end, have allowed myself to be shepherded, disgruntled, back inside the cabin. But it wasn’t as simple as that.

One of my two companions was a woman who was, quite frankly, verging on the hysterical. “I absolutely can’t go back into the plane,” she cried. “I’ve just lost my husband in an air accident. It was all I could do this morning to bring myself to get on board the plane in Malaga. I simply can’t imagine going back in it now, for another take-off and another landing. No, I’m not going to. I’m absolutely not going to.”

In the end, the authorities went for the nuclear option. Rather than let the three of us, carrying our handbags, nip onto one of the police vehicles and pop over into the arrivals lounge, they decided to redefine the flight – not as a Malaga to Gatwick flight, but as a Malaga to Heathrow flight. We could be allowed off since we could now be deemed to have “reached our scheduled destination”. This effectively meant that they cancelled the flight.

I am sorry, truly sorry, for the inconvenience caused to other passengers, some of whom no doubt had cars or loved ones waiting for them at Gatwick, and who found themselves disembarking willy-nilly at Heathrow instead.

I am as ready as the next man to shoulder my share of the blame when things go wrong. For example, if I try my hand at making scrambled eggs for breakfast and they end up sticking inextricably to the saucepan, I own up on the spot.

But on this particular occasion, I’m glad I stood my ground. And there was one passenger, at least – that poor woman whose husband had just died in an air crash – who thanked me for it.