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Mayday! Mayday! Cat in the cockpit aboard Flight #603

Frequent fliers need both hands to count all the excuses they've been given on why their flight will be late taking off. So you can imagine the passengers on a recent flight from Halifax to Toronto rolling their eyes in unison as the captain announced: 'Ah, we'll be a little late in leaving this morning ladies and gentlemen, we got a cat somewhere here in the cockpit."

He might as well have said: "Sorry folks, my dog ate my flight plan."

Last week Air Canada's 5:40 a.m. Flight #603 was shut down for four hours while crew and passengers alike scoured the plane for Ripples, a 10-year-old grey and brown patched tabby with a secret fantasy to appear in his own animated movie - 'Captain Ripples - Kitty On The Stick!'

Ripples eluded his owner Debbie Harris when he somehow escaped his carrier. His quarters under the owner's seat would be just about as cramped as the seats the humans had to squeeze into, in economy class.

From cage to cabin to cockpit went Ripples, leaving a trail of failed feline catchers along the way. All passengers were de-boarded and crew surrounded the plane in case Ripples made a run for it. Feeling lucky, he may have gone looking for an Airbus.

After calling, begging and threatening to send in an airport sniffer dog, technicians removed panels covering the avionics bay and there he was, wedged between the plane's navigational and communications equipment.

Once Ripples was removed from under the pilot's instrument panel and returned to his carrier under Debbie Harris' seat, the passengers re-boarded the plane and in typical Canadian good humour, everybody resumed their flight to Toronto.

Recently, two cats escaped their cages in domestic flights over the United States but they were immediately shot by sky marshals. (Okay, I made that up but in America, that could happen!)

I'm sure after it was all over the airline's staff was in a pretty surly mood. Nothing to do with the cat caper of course; from my experience of flying Air Canada that's the attitude you need in order to get the job.

The Flight #603 attendants remained calm and restrained. Not like two months ago when an Air Canada flight had to make an emergency landing after two executives from Kitchener's Research In Motion corporation got so drunk and unruly, flight attendants had to restrain them with plastic handcuffs and duct tape. Then . the two VIPs of the Blackberry manufacturer actually chewed their way out of the restraints. Had RIM shown that kind of determination and tenacity in battling Microsoft and Apple, the stock I bought at $54 probably wouldn't be worth the asking price of $16 today. I hope that did not sound personal. And for the record, the two sharp-teethed RIM executives fired upon landing were Scots, not Canadians.

With Air Canada and WestJet both still permitting cats to fly up top with people, this will likely happen again. Here then, are a few ways to tell if your flight has a cat in the cockpit.

. Upon take-off, dogs down in the luggage compartment begin barking in protest.

. Once in the air you notice a flight attendant on hands and knees at the cockpit door making tiny, little mouse noises.

. A purring sound comes on the PA system and the captain quickly announces weather conditions to prove it wasn't him snoring.

. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with the food cart offering vegetarian, Kosher and Fancy Feast Gourmet meals.

. A ransom note is pushed out from under the cockpit door demanding a dish of milk and that caged parakeet under Seat 7A.

. Somewhere over land a flight attendant is seen approaching the cockpit with a parachute and a backpack full of PetSmart coupons.

. The co-pilot makes mention of a 'tranquilizer pill' and is subsequently carried from the cockpit unconscious.

. The pilot comes on the PA and offers $500 cash to the first passenger that comes to the cockpit with anything that would serve as a litter box.

. The captain in a nervous voice announces that the airplane is no longer under his control and he's being forced to divert the flight to Catalina Island.

. When the plane suddenly plunges downward several thousand feet and then levels off again, the pilot asks passengers not to panic and explains he was accidently hit in the eye with a hair ball.

. After a female flight attendant flees from the cockpit bleeding and only partially clothed, the captain comes on and announces: "We almost got him that time!"

. At 38,000' the captain orders all "seeing-eye and assistant dogs" to line up in front of the emergency exit.

. The captain is forced to read 'The Free Feline Manifesto' demanding cats be allowed to fly anywhere, anytime at no charge. "Candy ass support animals" are mentioned.

. And finally . when the announcement is made that there might be a cat in the cockpit, two executives from Rim corporations get laughing so hard they throw up on each other.