Hero of the Day by Richard Baker

It was the first weekend in February 1975, when the world of sports held its breath in view of the nerve-racking battle between the squash and football squadrons of the London Business School and the respective teams of INSEAD, taking place in London. Four decades later nobody really recalls the outcome of the contests any more, but the circumstances of this trip are truly unforgettable.

Forty-five INSEAD participants each paid £17.50 for the return ticket on a chartered plane from Beauvais to Lydd airport in Kent. After a fun-filled flight on Friday and the fierce battles Saturday morning, the legendary Rugby match England versus France was to be watched at Twickenham.

At noon on Sunday, everyone straggled back to Lydd airport for a late afternoon flight to Beauvais. When eventually everybody was on board – some arrived late from London – there was already one non-INSEAD passenger seated. The plane had been overbooked by one seat, still somehow all 45 passengers were allowed to board the plane. So apparently there was one person too many, though everybody held a valid reservation.

As the plane would not take off with one passenger sitting on the floor, somebody had to leave. Claudio Pareto and Manuel da Silva started a chant: “One out, all out!” When the steward was unable to quell the dissent, the captain, alarmed by the cheerful riot, got out of the cockpit to solve the problem. After much huffing and puffing, the captain managed to convince Guy Desseaux to leave the plane and catch the next flight. Guy had his car waiting in Beauvais and was not dependent on the bus. However, the cockpit door got locked shut behind the captain and he was unable to re-enter the cockpit. Amid the chaos, when air traffic control was trying to communicate with an empty cockpit, the high-spirited INSEAD group had the most fun in the whole year, made even funnier by the antics of Claudio and Manuel, as Richard Baker recalls. Everybody was crying out for the aircraft boarding ladder to be brought back so the pilot could exit the plane and re-enter the cockpit through the outside cockpit door.

The coda of this episode was that when they arrived at Beauvais to catch the coach back to Fontainebleau, several bags had been left in Lydd. Luckily, Guy on the next flight was able to bring the bags back in his 2CV.

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