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- Comic Trio: Douglas the schemer, Martin the complainer, Arthur the idiot.
- Fire-Forged Friends: In the end, the crew of MJN have been through a lot together and will support each other, no matter what.
- Jerkass Has a Point: The MJN staff are doing their best, but nevertheless whenever another character suggests that they're cutting corners or are acting in an unprofessional manner, they've usually got a point.
- Meaningful Rename: At one point in the finale, as they scheme to win the plane back from Gordon, Carolyn refers to GERTI as Our Jet Still (rather than My Jet Now). Blink and you'll miss it, but Douglas' pre-flight announcement at the end of the episode welcomes the passengers to "OJS Airlines."
- Not So Different: In the series finale, Douglas implies that he was like Martin when he was young and states that he got his confidence by impersonating his own captain, whom he admired, and eventually the confidence became real. The same, it seems, will happen to Martin as well.
- Odd Couple: Martin and Douglas.
- Oddly Small Organisation: MJN is an "airdot" as opposed to an "airline." Although there is a ground crew, the staff of MJN Air consists of the regular cast of two pilots, one steward and the CEO/stewardess. The problems created by only having the minimum two pilots are occasionally acknowledged, but justified by the company's Perpetual Poverty.
- Perpetual Poverty: The airline runs on a loss and every trip could be their last. Otherwise they'd be paying Martin...
- Sexy Stewardess: Averted.Martin: For two very different reasons, neither Arthur nor Carolyn quite float my boat.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Martin and Douglas by the end of season three. Douglas will insult Martin endlessly, as he always does, but Martin is by no means above returning the favor for himself. And, despite the rampant jabs at one another, they do both certainly have each other's backs when the organic matter hits the spinning blades...
Captain Martin Crieff
- Played by: Benedict Cumberbatch
- Ace Pilot: Deconstructed. Martin is a very cautious and safety-conscious pilot, but not good at quick-thinking or improvisation in a tight spot. However, he landed the plane on one engine after a bird strike in "St. Petersburg."
- Adorkable: Mostly insecure and sometimes nervously stumbling over his own words, but good-natured and a victim of bad luck. Just listen to him rattling off the Seven Dwarves in "Gdansk"! You just want to pick him up and hug him!
- Animals Hate Him: In Uskerty, he winds up being attacked by bees and pestered by a goose, which then proceeds to eat his father's signet ring.
- The B Grade: When Martin is told that he got 99% on a theory test (in which nobody has ever scored more than 84, and the testers conclude he must have cheated) he can only ask "... so I got a question wrong?" Turns out they were just confused by his British 7 (with no crossbar) looking like a European 1, so he was right after all.
- Buffy Speak: While he tries to be professional, Martin lacks Douglas's impressive vocabulary, and occasionally lapses into this.Martin: But the thing is, weve taken away all the things that couldn't possibly have happened, so I suppose the only thing thats left, even though it seems really weird, must be the thing that did happen, in fact.
- Butt-Monkey: His constant bad luck makes places him on the receiving end of many jokes, both in universe and out. Always being compared to Douglas doesn't help.
- Cannot Talk to Women: Gets tongue-tied when dealing with attractive women, e.g. Hester MacCauley ("Cremona"), Linda Fairburn ("Newcastle") and Princess Theresa ("Vaduz"). Making it worse with Linda's example is she's also a captain of a better airline, making her as Douglas puts it "the perfect storm".
- Cannot Tell a Joke: In "Cremona". He tries, but ultimately only succeeds in bludgeoning the jokes to death. And those are the ones he can remember.
- Chest of Medals: Parodied. When meeting Princess Theresa of Lichtenstein, Martin decides to wear two medals he received simply for being in the Air Cadets when they were handed out. Later, Theresa simply hands him three more medals to wear after she takes a liking to him.
- Commissar Cap: Martin and Caroline needle Martin for wearing a comically large cap that is apparently dripping with gold braid.
- Cool Shades: Martin finds some aviators in "Johannesburg." He's reluctant to wear them lest Douglas mock him, but since Douglas isn't around he does — and his confidence improves without the constant snarking as well. Of course by the end of the episode, before Douglas even gets a chance to get any good jabs in, they — along with his newfound self-esteem — get broken.
- He qualified to be a pilot on his seventh attempt. Every time he failed he had to save up the money again in order to retry.
- He also managed to read and memorize the entire 600 page flight manual.
- Emotional Regression: Suffers this when his brother and sister are around.
- Expecting Someone Taller: It's a Running Gag that most people meeting Douglas and Martin assume Douglas is the captain.
- Geek Physiques: Implied to be small and spindly. Has trouble getting people to recognise him as an authority figure. This can be a bit jarring when it comes to the promotional pictures, since Benedict Cumberbatch is actually six feet tall.
- Green-Eyed Monster:
- Towards Douglas, who looks the part of an airline captain in addition to having the skills.
- In "Rotterdam", of the actor Carolyn hires to do the safety video also called Martin. Although eventually the two bond, when Captain Martin realises they are Not So Different.Martin: You look more like a captain than me, you sound more like a captain than me, you've got a better uniform than me, and a better name than me! You must be very pleased.
- And later:Martin: How tall are you, Martin?Other Martin: Oh, er... 6'2...Martin: Ha! (to Douglas) Told you so are you married? Oh, of course you are. Kids too, I expect?Other Martin: Yes, two.Martin: Boy and a girl?Other Martin: How did you know...?Martin: Just a hunch!
- Grew a Spine: Martin noticeably manages to stand up to bullies in series 4.
- Hard Work Hardly Works: Martin has devoted his entire life to being a pilot, sacrificing everything and working obsessively towards getting his licence and doing everything by the book which he has memorised. Yet all those years of dedication have made him merely competent, and markedly not as good a pilot as Douglas manages effortlessly to be - it just comes naturally to him, and absolutely doesn't to Martin. Not that Martin lets this stop him.
- Inferiority Superiority Complex: He sometimes overplays his hand when demanding that people take him seriously.
- Insistent Terminology: It's Captain Martin Crieff! Most of Martin's interactions with Karl, the Air Traffic Controller, involve Martin berating him for neglecting to use the right terminology.
- Lawful Stupid: When it comes to safety, to the point where he even refuses to allow an imaginary otter into the flight deck.
- Maybe Ever After: May or may not end up with Princess Theresa since the two have gone on some dates together and like each other.
- No Social Skills: Uptight, borderline neurotic, and utterly incapable of being "one of the blokes", even when he desperately tries.
- Not So Above It All: Despite being a stickler for safety and professionalism, Martin is occasionally seen indulging his sense of humour during his cabin addresses on cargo flights, and goes out of his way to throw an improvised Christmas party for Arthur in the flight deck.
- Official Couple: Martin and Theresa.
- Perpetual Poverty: He's not getting paid for being a pilot at MJN. Sometimes, for a treat, he has a baked potato.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: The Sensitive Guy to Douglas's Manly Man.
- Sickly Neurotic Geek: Has an "abnormality of the inner ear" that makes him reluctant to go swimming without earplugs in "Ipswich", worries that being able to smell bacon might be a sign of impending doom in "Xinzhou", and plays up his injury to get out of hard work in "Ottery St. Mary".
- Small Name, Big Ego: Makes a big deal of the fact that he's an airline captain.
- The Un-Favourite: Always in the shadow of his elder brother Simon, and often bickers with his sister Caitlin, a traffic warden. However at the end of "Wokingham", his mother informs him that the whole family have always been proud of him, especially Simon.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Martin's late father tried to steer him away from becoming a pilot after he repeatedly failed his exams. Martin deeply regrets that his father never got to see him fulfill his dream.
- Workaholic: Aviation is his only interest.
First Officer Douglas Richardson
- Played by: Roger Allam
- The Ace: There doesn't seem to be a skill he doesn't possess.
- Ace Pilot: Deconstructed. Douglas is a highly (and effortlessly) skilled pilot, but a reckless one, his record of stunts resulting in his being knocked down to First Officer. For example, he managed to chase polar bears across Qikiqtarjuaq in a really old commercial charter plane, all the while making taka-taka noises.
- Becoming the Mask: Douglas reveals to Martin in "Zurich, pt. 2" how he came by his calm and resourceful demeanor: he imitated Rory, his first captain for "the first couple of years."Douglas: Then it just becomes part of who you are. That's why you have to pick your model carefully. You, of course, have picked terribly well.
- Beneath the Mask: He appears supremely confident and self-satisfied, but this masks a deep and desperate desire to be a captain rather than a first officer (to the point where he pretends to his wife that he's the captain). Douglas being Douglas, the mask is almost always extremely convincing. Almost always.
- Berserk Button: The fact that Martin caught him pretending to be the airline's captain to impress his wife.
- Born Lucky: No matter the problem, he always gets out of it and looks brilliant doing so.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: A natural pilot, but in "Ipswich" he outright says that he refuses to study and expects to pass the test on luck.
- Broken Ace: Downplayed because it's a comedy, but Douglas is a former alcoholic who has had a total of three unsuccessful marriages and his most recent wife cheated on him with a Tai Chi instructor.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Carolyn is fully aware of his love of Zany Schemes, disregard for rules, and tendency to steal expensive whiskey, but he remains employed because of his skill as a pilot, as well as his general talent for getting MJN out of virtually any kind of trouble.
- The Casanova: In his younger days.
- Cloudcuckoolander: It's camouflaged by his impressive vocabulary, intellect, and snark, but Douglas certainly has a bizarre sense of humour and a rather wacky imagination - his story about St Mary being eaten by otters is a good example, as are most of his cabin addresses and word games.
- Consummate Liar: He's very good at coming up with on-the-spot lies and excuses.
- Cozy Voice for Catastrophes: As evidenced by episode one, scene one.Douglas: Just to let you know were making our final approach now into what I am fairly sure is Fitton Airfield. Unless its a farm. Or just possibly the A45. Its not the sea, because thats blue...
- Deadpan Snarker: Douglas is the fount of eternal snark.Carolyn: Now Douglas, as soon as we get to the motel, I want you to help me write my little speech for tomorrow.Martin: What about me?Carolyn: Well, okay, you too, but I want it to be unbearably superior and snide, so obviously Douglas is my primary resource.
- Establishing Character Moment: His highly sarcastic cabin address in the cold opening to "Abu Dhabi", given in spite of the fact he knows that there are no passengers on the plane.
- Good-Looking Privates: Douglas has, apparently, put his pilot's uniform to very good use. He advises Martin to do the same, but Martin is too inept.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Towards Hercules.
- Insufferable Genius: To date, his skills include: aircraft piloting, cooking, piano playing.Douglas: I'm very good at cooking.Martin: Is there anything you're not 'very good' at? (beat) Douglas?Douglas: I'm thinking. There are things I haven't tried yet. I suppose it's possible I'm not very good at some of those. Theoretically.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He mercilessly teases his colleagues, but he becomes a good friend to Martin and a father-figure to Arthur.
- Karma Houdini: He never gets a comeuppance for any of his schemes. Though being employed by MJN might be his punishment.
- Large and in Charge: Subverted. Most people assume he's the captain because of his age and height.
- MacGyvering: Many of his Zany Schemes involve a form of this, most notably his solution in "St. Petersburg."
- Manipulative Bastard: Particularly towards Martin.
- Not So Above It All: "Limerick" opens with Douglas bemoaning just how phenomenally boring flying from Russia to Limerick is, and inviting the passengers to the flight deck for sex. Fortunately, it's a cargo flight.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When GERTI unexpectedly "uses one of her engines to make a goose smoothie", both the fact that Douglas yells 'CHRIST!' in a genuinely shocked tone, and that he immediately becomes very professional and supportive of Martin alert us to just how perilous the situation is.
- Older Sidekick: A humorous variation. Douglas is first officer to Martin, who is younger and less experienced. Everyone always assumes Douglas must be the captain, which drives Martin crazy.
- Self-Proclaimed Liar:Douglas: I cannot tell a lie. What am I saying? I'm terrific at telling lies.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: The Manly to Martin's Sensitive.
- Serial Spouse: Has three ex-wives by the end of the series.
- Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Depending on how canon the cast picture is. Roger Allam has dark hair, so most fans tend to assume that this applies to Douglas as well. Douglas's height, however, and his snark especially, fit this trope to a tee.
- The Teetotaler: Revealed at the end of "Fitton."
- Troll: Teasing Martin, Carolyn and Arthur for any reason makes his job at MJN all the better.
- Ultimate Job Security: An awful lot of his behaviour — including low-flying GERTI over some polar bears having accidentally left the cabin address on so everyone on board can hear Martin screaming at him to stop, and stealing from the CEO at least once a year — should at least get him suspended or disciplined. Justified by the fact that there isn't an alternative given MJN is an Oddly Small Organisation, and he is very good at getting them out of tight spots at very short notice.
- Weasel Co-Worker: Zigzagged. Douglas is certainly sneaky and a slacker, and often winds up getting Martin in more trouble than himself, but he is highly competent as a pilot, and is often the one who winds up bailing MJN out when trouble strikes.
- Played by: Stephanie Cole
- Berserk Button: Hates being called or treated as "a little old lady."
- Deadpan Snarker: Almost as much so as Douglas. The two often engage in Snark-to-Snark Combat.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Carolyn has put (lost) most of her share of her ex-husband's fortune into the airline, which has been running at a deficit for years. She holds on because being the CEO of MJN Air is "a good thing to be. Better than ... a little old lady."
- Disproportionate Retribution: "No-one calls me "dearie" and gets away with it." A rude passenger insulting Arthur for being Arthur at her goes with nary more than some sarcasm, but that prompts Carolyn to approach Douglas for a suitable revenge scheme designed to drive the passenger to absolute fury.
- Expecting Someone Taller: More than one person is surprised that the manager of MJN is a woman.
- The "I Love You" Stigma: Herc and Carolyn in "Vaduz".
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Between her and Douglas, MJN Air has an awful lot of jerk... but also an awful lot of heart.
- Mean Boss: Certainly in the earlier seasons, although Series 4 has her being much nicer towards Martin.
- Mister Muffykins: Snoopadoop the cockapoo ("noblest of hounds!"), Carolyn's "ridiculous little dog". In Carolyn's defence, Arthur picked the name.
- Never Mess with Granny: And while you're at it, you probably shouldn't call her "granny."
- Not So Above It All: After witnessing Arthur's way of dealing with the Comic Role Play intended to improve his stewarding skills (inventing new passengers played by himself who take over most of the requests, then turning on the seatbelt sign), Carolyn admits she might well have done the same thing and lets him borrow her car as agreed.
- Official Couple: Herc and Carolyn.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Carolyn speaks with a more-or-less Received Pronunciation accentnote . Most of the time. In "Helsinki", when her Lancastrian sister turns up, Carolyn's accent gradually drifts back to her natural Lancastrian as she and Ruth spend more and more time bickering.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Carolyn and her sister Ruth.
- Playing Hard to Get: With Herc. He gives as good as he gets, though.
- Tsundere: Behaves this way towards Herc.
- Woman Scorned: The tone of the messages Carolyn leaves for her ex-husband definitely ring of this trope. And the airline is called "My Jet Now."
- Played by: John Finnemore
- Adorkable: There's not a mean bone in this man child.
- Bad Liar:
- In "Kuala Lumpur", Douglas proves that Arthur is incapable of coming up with a convincing lie, or sticking to a lie once he's told it.Douglas: Answer this question with a lie. What's your name?
Arthur: [stuttering] Arth...nold...man...er...cat...sir...man.
Douglas: Arthnoldmanercatsirman... That's an unusual name. Tell me, is it made up?
Arthur: Yes, it is. Augh!
- Douglas tries to teach him to lie better by using anecdotes from real life instead of trying to make things up, but this doesn't work since most of his anecdotes include the people he's trying to lie to. Telling Carolyn he's been at the dentist's when she took him last week, telling Martin he's been having lunch at an Italian restaurant with Douglas and Mar...k Ramprakash.
- In "Kuala Lumpur", Douglas proves that Arthur is incapable of coming up with a convincing lie, or sticking to a lie once he's told it.
- Berserk Button: Do NOT insult his mother.
- Admittedly his idea of going berserk is putting a cake in someone's face, but by Arthur's standards the merest hint of hostility is an extreme reaction.
- He's also furious when he's lied to, as shown in "Zurich" when he shouts at his dad for trying to fool him into returning GERTI to him.
- Catchphrase: "Brilliant!"
- Constantly Curious: Arthur's attempts to find out from everyone else why aeroplanes can fly in "Abu Dhabi".
- Delusions of Eloquence: Arthur has a habit of talking this way, combined with Department of Redundancy Department, when he goes into flight attendant mode;Arthur: Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see our onboard transit process today has now reached its ultimate termination.
Carolyn: He means we've landed.
Arthur: Yes. So as yourselves prepare for disemboarding, if I could kindly ask you to kindly ensure you retain all your personal items about your person throughout the duration of the disembarcation.
Carolyn: He means take your stuff with you.
Arthur: In concluding, it's been a privilege for ourselves to conduct yourselves through the in-flight experience today, and I do hope you'll refavor ourselves with the esteem of your forth-looking custom going forward.
Carolyn: [wearily] No idea.
- The Ditz: Clearly neither book-smart nor street-smart.
- Incredibly Lame Fun: He once spent an entire flight staring at GERTI's wings, just because.
- Kavorka Man: An Informed Attribute of Arthur's is his "mysterious and unaccountable pull over bossy pony-club types with Alice bands and stupid names".
- Lethal Chef: Arthur, inventor of such dishes as "surprising rice" and "fizzy yoghurt". The recipe for the latter is "yoghurt plus time."Douglas: Arthur, you're aware the point of giving us separate meals is so that we can't both get food poisoning? There's really not much point if you're just going to poison us in two different ways.
- The Load: In "Ipswich", Arthur's stupidity is single-handedly responsible for almost getting MJN shut down. The only reason it isn't is because Douglas realises just in time there's no actual reason for Arthur to be on staff at all, resulting in him being moved to the passenger roster.
- Manchild: You wouldn't know he's in his late twenties.
- Momma's Boy: He lives with Carolyn and loves and respects her above all.
- Nice Guy: He may not be smart, but he is genuinely sweet and always wants to help everyone. Unfortunately.
- No, You: Arthur responds to a fourteen-year-old saying his job is stupid with "no, you've got a stupid job!"
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Arthur's description of his dad.Douglas: I think what we may be witnessing here, is Arthur attempting to describe something with an adjective other than 'brilliant'.
Arthur: Yeah, n-n, I wouldn't say he's b... I mean, obviously, everyone's b... No, he's not brilliant. He's, ah... he's all right.
Martin: He must be awful!
- The Pollyanna: Relentlessly cheerful regardless of any circumstances, even at six in the morning.Arthur: Brilliant! I love take-off delays.Douglas: Oh, Arthur, please. Even you cannot love take-off delays.Carolyn: (wearily) No, he does.Arthur: Yeah! 'Cause take-off's the best bit of the whole flight, isn't it? And normally it's over before you can enjoy it. Whereas this way, we get to really build up to it!
- Sarcasm-BlindArthur: Mr. Birling said I'll never find another girlfriend.
Carolyn: I see. Well, Mr. Birling, the 70-something-year-old retiree from Sussex, is of course one of the country's leading experts on relationships, bu—
Arthur: Awww, is he? I didn't even know that!
Arthur: I'm glad we're stuck under this bridge. That's a good thing.
- He's also terrible at imitating sarcasm, when he tries to imagine what kind of quip Douglas would make in their situation:
- Self-Induced Allergic Reaction: By eating dragonfruit in "Yverdon-Les-Bains."
- Static Character: The only character of the main four not to undergo significant character development over the course of the show.
- Unwanted Assistance: He's very helpful, but he has serious problems reading signals as to when his help is actually needed, and when it's just going to cause more problems.
- The Watson: He's usually the one to ask the pilots questions related to aviation and aeroplanes, which helps clarify the piece-that's-fallen-off-GERTI-of-the-week for the benefit of the audience. He becomes a much more literal Watson to Martin's "Sherlock" in the episode "Paris."
- Played by: Timothy West
- Back for the Finale: His last appearance before "Zurich" was "St. Petersburg."
- Damned by Faint Praise: Martin and Douglas know Arthur's dad is going to be awful when Arthur can only bring himself to describe him as "alright".
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Gordon claims in "Zurich" that the real reason he wants GERTI back is that it's named after his late mother. Subverted in that Arthur immediately realizes he's lying, since of course he knows his own grandmother's name.
- Kick the Dog: Specifically, his treatment of Arthur.
- Played by: Geoffrey Whitehead
- Awful Wedded Life: With his "awful wife" Elizabeth.Martin: I'm sure she's not awful.
Birling: Well, I'll tell you what, my dear boy, you marry her for 30 years and then we'll compare notes.
- Drink Order: He only drinks Talisker whisky, which Caroline has to specially order just for him.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: He is supposedly Welsh, despite being played by Geoffrey Whitehead and therefore sounding "more English than the Queen", according to Martin (although it is an important plot point in his first episode that Martin doesn't realise he's Welsh, and Arthur excuses it by saying he's "posh Welsh").
- Once a Season: The annual tradition of "Birling Day," when they fly him to wherever the final of the Six Nations is being held.
- Patriotic Fervor: As a definite Welshman, he despises the English and takes great glee in watching them lose rugby, paying better tips when they do.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Because of his generous tips he knows he can do whatever he pleases on GERTI.
- Uncle Pennybags: Mr. Birling's redeeming trait, at least in the minds of Douglas and Carolyn.
Hercules "Herc" Shipwright
- Played by: Anthony Head
- Aerith and Bob: The Shipwright siblings, whose father "was rather eccentric", are named Hercules, Wellington, Harrier...and Sarah ("he was eccentric, not mad").
- Ace Pilot: On par with Douglas in terms of flying experience.
- Always Someone Better: To Douglas.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Hercules.
- Granola Girl: Male version. A strict vegetarian, apparently on moral grounds. Carolyn thinks it's because he's afraid that the sheep will come after him for revenge.
- The "I Love You" Stigma: Herc and Carolyn in "Vaduz".
- Official Couple: Herc and Carolyn.
- Serial Spouse: He has four ex-wives.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: It seems that he once had this sort of relationship with Douglas, and while they continue spar after their initial gleeful reunion in Newcastle, there is a veiled sense of animosity once Herc begins dating Carolyn. It is possible this is down to Douglas feeling Herc is muscling in on his territory. By the close of Zurich things seem to be improving as they ride off into the sunset together.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: He refuses to take a shortcut through a meadow because he's afraid of sheep.
Princess Theresa of Liechtenstein
- Played by: Matilda Ziegler
- Deadpan Snarker: She's got a wicked sense of humour.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Princess Theresa of Liechtenstein is a match for Carolyn - and as it turns out, in the other sense, for Martin!
- Mistaken for Prank Call: Martin and Douglas each assume the other is behind a call from the Princess of Liechtenstein, with Martin asking if she needs rescuing from a dragon. Apparently it happens to her a lot. Later in the episode, Herc hears that the pilots have gotten a booking from the King of Liechtenstein and says "Well, that's obviously Douglas doing a funny voice."
- Modest Royalty: The Princess of Liechtenstein, who books her own flights, personally answers the door, and insists everyone call her Theresa. Her younger brother the King is not an example, and apparently neither is their mother, of whom she pulls off a terrifying impression to cow Carolyn.
- Official Couple: Martin and Theresa.