Philip Entwistle, a pilot for the budget airline Budgie Air, was left behind at Newcastle Airport yesterday when his plane left without him.
"To be fair," said Entwistle, "pilots don't do very much any more. We're mainly there for insurance purposes."
According to flight logs, flight BA779 to Houston, Texas, received the all clear from Geordie Flight Control, and taxied to the runway, took off smoothly, flew all the way to Houston, landed, and the passengers disembarked.
"We'd not realised there was no pilot," said Harry Bates, one of the passengers who is visiting relatives in Dallas. "I thought it was odd that the pilot didn't come over the PA to tell us what the weather was like, how high we'd be flying, stuff like that. But the cabin crew gave out food and it was a good flight, so I've no complaints really."
Modern aircraft have auto-take off, auto-land and SatNavs to get to their destination on auto-pilot. These facilities are widely regarded as safer, more efficient and better than the human pilots. According to the pilots union, PISUP, their members have been demoted to the inglorious position of weather forecaster and reassuring voices.
"We've been told," said Carol Singer, of PISUP, "that when the SatNav Auto-Pilots have a better voice interface, the pilot won't even need to give travel updates to the passengers. This means that as well as no longer requiring flying lessons, they won't even need a geography GCSE at grade B or higher. It's denigration! That's what it is."
Meanwhile, Philip Entwistle has been forced to catch a second flight out to Houston in order to bring the plane back. Sadly, he was on a budget airline, and it landed in Alaska.