No smoking, unless you are the Olympic Flame!Reported by Deccan Herald on Saturday, 19 May 2012 (on May 19, 2012)
*The cabin announcement was polite but firm: "Unless you happen to be the Olympic Flame, I'm afraid there is no smoking allowed."*
The flame, lit from the sun's rays in the ruins of ancient Olympia and handed over to London Olympic organisers after a week-long torch relay around Greece, flickered in front row seats 1A and 1B.
Nobody on this flight was about to play with fire.
Burning inside four lanterns fastened firmly in pairs in special cradles, the flame left a rain-sodden Athens' airport bound for Britain on Flight 2012 -- a British Airways Airbus 319 with the name 'Firefly' painted on the golden-liveried fuselage.
Four hours later, a lot slower than a modern Olympic Marathon runner but faster than the ancient Greek Pheidippides, it touched down to whoops, cheers and applause at the Culdrose naval air station in windswept south-west Britain.
In seat 1C sat a 'minder', a trained firefighter keeping an eye on what accompanying London mayor Boris Johnson described as the "touch paper of the 70-day fuse that will finally detonate" an Olympic explosion of excitement in his city on July 27.
Princess Anne was across the aisle in 1F.
Former England soccer captain David Beckham, style idol and one of the most photographed men in the world, was three rows behind in a smart grey suit with silver tie-pin and primed for a starring role.
Despite all his years competing at the very top for Manchester United and England, Beckham confessed to feeling the odd butterfly knowing that he would be lighting the first cauldron on arrival.
"No pressure," the 37-year-old, interviewed by a television crew mid-flight while sitting next to the flame, had grinned earlier in the day. "I hope it lights.
"To be travelling back with the flame tonight, and to be lighting it, is something very special. Something that I am going to cherish for many years," he added.
He was not the only one. Captain Dave Thomas, who has flown Queen Elizabeth on state visits, was thrilled with the honour of flying the flame with co-pilot Andy Berryman on what crew jokingly referred to as the 'Custard Comet'.
"It's exciting, very exciting. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he told Reuters. "It's all very new and exciting but we've done a lot of work in order to make sure it (the flame) is nice and safe. It's all locked away in its little miner's lamp."
With nothing left to chance, a dry run was carried out at the helicopter base in March to put the cradle through a landing simulation on a runway designed for fighter jets rather than commercial airliners.
The flame may travel light but it does not do economy any more than Beckham does, so all passengers were treated to a more refined class of catering.
London will be the only city to have hosted three Summer Games and the flame has flown to Britain once before -- in 2008 as part of a controversial Beijing relay through 20 countries.
The London flame, which embarked on Saturday on a 70-day relay around Britain, has a heady time ahead. A hot air balloon, cable car, steam train, canal boat and motorcycle sidecar await on the long road to London.
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