There are two pilots: First Officer Douglas Richardson (Roger Allam), the good one, and Captain Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch), the safe one. The attendants are Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole), who owns the airline as part of her last divorce settlement, and her well-meaning, if dim, late-twenties son Arthur (John Finnemore).
Much of the humour comes from the tension between the two pilots, Carolyn's penny-pinching ways, and Arthur's stupidity.
The series was completed after 26 alphabetically-entitled episodes: four series of six, one Christmas Special, and a two-part finale that was broadcast on Christmas 2014. Since the series ended Finnemore has revisited the character of Arthur on several occasions, most recently for a video spin-off, "Cabin Fever", about Arthur in self-isolation.
- Ace Pilot: Deconstructed, as neither pilot is as perfect as they want or seem to be. For specific examples, check the character page.Carolyn: I have a good pilot and a safe pilot. And the safe pilot is in charge of the good pilot. Martin wont let them get into trouble, and if they do, Douglas would get them out of it.
- Accidental Murder: Arthur only planned to put out Mr. Leeman's cigarette when he sprayed him with a fire extinguisher in "Boston." He didn't expect Mr. Leeman to have a lethal heart attack afterwards.
- Also, Douglas tries celebrating his daughter's birthday party by flying GERTI over his ex-wife's house in Barrow-In-Furness and dropping boiled sweets from the air brake cavity to her. Instead, the sweets melt in the warmth, resolidify into a "sugar brick" in the cold air, and end up hitting and killing a koi carp in Douglas' ex-wife's pond. Douglas serves carp for his and Martin's dinner en route to "Johannesburg".
- Actually, I Am Him:
- Carolyn has to assure a few people that the manager of MJN is, in fact, her.
- In 'Vaduz':Martin: Hello, we're here to pick up Princess Theresa.
Princess Theresa: Yes, hello.
Martin: [awkward pause] Is she... in?
Theresa: Yes, she is in... front of you.
- Actor Allusion:
- Played with in the Series 3 episode 'Paris'. According to John Finnemore's blog, he promised Benedict that he wouldn't put in Sherlock references just for the sake of it. True to his word, in an episode where Martin attempts to track down a missing bottle of whisky with his trusty sidekick Arthur, he is repeatedly likened to... Miss Marple. He also narrowly avoids quoting Sherlock Holmes in the line;Martin: The thing is, we've taken away all the things that can't possibly have happened, so I suppose the only thing that's left, even though it seems really weird, must be the thing that did happen in fact!Douglas: ...Snappily put.
- Speaking of Miss Marple, it gets even funnier: In "Limerick", during the evil name game, Martin suggested Agatha Christie. Benedict was in a TV adaptation of the Christie novel Murder is Easy, as a local detective aiding Marple.
- Back in the first series there is an apparent premonition of his role, when he mentions the Sherlock Holmes book The Hound of the Baskervilles.
- John Finnemore's promise to Benedict didn't stop him from having Martin's ring eaten by a goose in the season four episode 'Uskerty'. He thought fans wouldn't notice the reference to The Blue Carbuncle. He was very, very wrong.
- It didn't stop Martin's brother Simon from being a minor government official in "Wokingham" either.
- It's not the first time Roger Allam has had confusion over swapping alcohol for water.
- In "Limerick", Douglas reminds an over dramatic Martin that he's not in an Arthur Miller play. He'd know.
- And Douglas would certainly know something about how to compliment people for their lifestyle and dressing choices (the "captain in a red cocktail dress" question in "Yverdon-les-Bains"), given that his actor dressed in drag in La Cage aux folles. To be precise, a red cocktail dress.
- Played with in the Series 3 episode 'Paris'. According to John Finnemore's blog, he promised Benedict that he wouldn't put in Sherlock references just for the sake of it. True to his word, in an episode where Martin attempts to track down a missing bottle of whisky with his trusty sidekick Arthur, he is repeatedly likened to... Miss Marple. He also narrowly avoids quoting Sherlock Holmes in the line;
- The Alleged Car: GERTI is an Alleged Plane. After another pilot correctly identifies what model it is, Douglas replies, "Gosh, well done. Most people would have to stop and think before they said 'aeroplane'..."
- Subverted slightly in that despite being old, decrepit, twin-engined and small enough to only carry sixteen passengers, GERTI is capable of flying 10,000 kilometers nonstop in about 12 hours.
- And then there's Martin's Alleged Van.
- All There in the Manual: Inversion. According to John Finnemore, the only canon is what appears in the broadcast episodes. He is happy to answer questions, but on the basis that his Word of God is officially unofficial.
- Alphabetical Theme Naming: The 26 episode titles go through the alphabet from Abu Dhabi, Boston and Cremona to Xinzhou, Yverdon-les-Bains and Zurich.
- Amateur Film-Making Plot: "Rotterdam" centres on the airplane's crew attempting to film their own welcome and safety-demonstration videos. Complications ensue.
- And the Adventure Continues: The series ends with MJN flying to Addis Ababa, and starting another game.Douglas: The lemon is in play...
- Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Played straight for an Unspoken Plan Guarantee between Martin and Douglas in 'Douz', the humour being when Arthur joins in despite clearly having no idea what they're talking about.Douglas: Ohhh... You mean...
Martin: What do you think?
Douglas: I like it.
Arthur: (conspiratorially) Yeah... that might just work...
Martin: What might?
Arthur: I don't know... I just like talking like this...
- Aroused by Their Voice: The voice-off between Douglas and Herc in "Rotterdam".Carolyn: Stop, both of you, before I drown in syrup!
- Asshole Victim: Mr. Leeman in "Boston", who obstinately refuses to put out his cigarette despite MJN's "no smoking" policy until Carolyn drops it in his wine, then equally unrepentantly goes into the toilet and covers the smoke alarm, and bluntly refuses to come out when ordered by Carolyn. The second time he does it, Martin sends Arthur out to hose him down with a fire extinguisher... and he promptly drops dead from a heart attack.
- Bad "Bad Acting": Gus Brown as Paramount Martin.
- Batman Gambit:
- Douglas' scheme in "Kuala Lumpur" (to make Martin think Carolyn had shut down his secret bar, when really she'd been a regular patron before he found out about it) relied on Arthur being such a Bad Liar that Martin would realise the bar had been set up again, Martin calling Carolyn and then immediately regretting doing so, and Martin picking up on his hint to give her the one bottle filled with apple juice. He knows his colleagues inside-out, does Douglas.
- His plan to get to stay at the Excelsior Hotel in "Cremona" is possibly even more complex. He plays on Carolyn's nonexistent tolerance for being talked down to after film star Hester Macauley calls her "dearie" by suggesting that she tell a local group of fans of her appearance as the Lady of the Lake in Quest for Camelot that she is staying in the Excelsior. Meanwhile, Martin has allowed himself to be talked into booking the state rooms at the Excelsior instead of the rooms at the rundown Garibaldi over the road. Douglas proceeds to fleece the Quest for Camelot fans for several thousand euros by offering them a chance to pretend to be hotel staff and thus meet their idol, then uses the money to pay for Hester to stay in the state rooms while he takes her old room at the Excelsior and sticks Martin and Arthur with his old room at the Garibaldi. Every step of his plan relies on everyone involved behaving exactly as he expects them to do - except he doesn't reckon on Carolyn wanting to watch the mayhem she has tried to engineer...
- Been There, Shaped History: In the first Cabin Fever Covid quarantine video, Arthur talks about a fantastic trip they did recently, taking some really nice guys out to find a site for their new factory, all over China, South Korea...and then back home to Milan.
- Bigger on the Inside: Played for laughs in "Limerick" when Arthur is playing Twenty Questions to determine what the cargo is:Arthur: Is it bigger than the box?Douglas: Is it bigger than the box it's in? [incredulous] No, it's not.
- Gets a Call-Back in one of the Cabin Fever quarantine videos, where commentators ask questions about what Arthur has in a tin. Inevitably, many people asked this question, and Arthur's reply was "Yes. Only in one direction, but still." It's a skipping rope, so it fits in the tin because it's coiled up.
- Bittersweet Ending: Discussed in "Zurich, Part 1" with the quote below, when they think they'll have to sell off GERTI: the actual ending may qualify as either "fairytale" (the miraculous saviour of MJN) or "sad happy" (Arthur explicitly compares Martin leaving the airline to his description of the ending to The Jungle Book.)Arthur: ...doesn't feel like a happy ending.
Carolyn: It is a happy ending! Just not a fairytale ending. We cant expect that. Real happy endings are never simple.
Arthur: Yes they are! Like in Finding Nemo when they find Nemo. Or in Casablanca when the woman gets a go on the plane. [...] I suppose maybe The Jungle Book when youre meant to be happy that Mowgli goes off with the boring girl to the human village instead of hanging out with Baloo and Bagheera. Thats a kind of sad happy ending.
- Black Comedy: "Boston" revolves around a dead body. As John Finnemore put it during a livetweeting of the episode:There we go two episodes into our family friendly radio sitcom, and the most lovable character has just killed a man. Thats how we do comedy in Britain.
- Bland-Name Product:
- Douglas and Herc's former employer 'Air England', probably because British Airways wouldn't appreciate the implication that they'd ever employed anyone like Douglas.
- G-ERTI is a 'Lockheed McDonnell 3-12', which doesn't exist as a real aircraft. Presumably a combination of Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas.
- Subverted in the Birling Day trilogy: John Finnemore never thought that the Talisker would make a return after Edinburgh, so he didn't bother making up a fictional whisky, which he would've done if he'd known there would be multiple episodes where all the characters repeatedly mention how delicious it is. He is also quite adamant that he doesn't have shares in Toblerone.
- Blatant Lies: In the finale, Gordon's explanation to Arthur of why he's so desperate to get GERTI back: she's named after his late mother. So blatant that even Arthur sees through it (he met Granny Shappey before she died, and remembers her name was Maud, not Gerti).
- The Blind Leading the Blind:
- A Running Gag in 'Abu Dhabi' is each of the main characters trying to explain to Arthur how planes' wings work. Carolyn is out of her depth almost immediately, Martin gives the classic primary school "the air on top has to keep up" explanation (which Arthur scotches with "but why does it have to?") and Douglas gives a more accurate explanation regarding relative air pressures. When Arthur asks how planes are able to fly upside-down, even Douglas has to deftly change the subject.
- In a more literal example in "Ipswich", the crew fails a fire drill after Arthur, designated leader for the drill, grabs onto Martin (last in line) to lead them to safety while they all wear smoke hoods.
- Bolivian Army Ending: The final episode of series 4, 'Yverdon-Les-Bains' ended with Martin leaving the question of whether he's going to take a paying job at another airline up in the air. Finnemore hoped to be able to make a 'Zurich' episode to wrap everything up, but made 'Yverdon' in such a way that it could stand up on its own if that wasn't possible. He eventually confirmed that a final episode would be broadcast in 2014.Finnemore: Yes, now he has a big decision to make, and that decision has potentially sad consequences... but he hasn't made it yet, so we don't even know which potentially sad consequences to be potentially sad about.
- Bothering by the Book: From "Newcastle", annoyed at his sniping at the state of GERTI, Martin insists that an engineer fix a broken lightbulb before they take off from Birmingham to Newcastle, despite the engineer cheerily telling him not to worry. The engineer hits back by insisting on using a cherry-picker, safety harness, hard hat etc, even though the bulb is six feet off the ground. Things just escalate from there. Herc finally has to bribe him with £50 to get him to stop.
- Bottle Episode: 'Fitton', 'Limerick' and 'Xinzhou' all take place largely on board GERTI and feature quiet character interaction between the core cast rather than a complex comedy plot. 'Limerick' is a particularly extreme example, taking place entirely on the flight deck, with only the main cast, and in real time.
- Bratty Half-Pint:
- Maxi, the King of Liechtenstein. He's fond of threatening to chop off the heads of schoolmates who make fun of him, which Martin recognises as the same kind of petty pomposity he resorts to.
- Carolyn's 14-year-old great-nephew Kieran in 'Helsinki' is a pompous, arrogant windbag who takes every opportunity he can to belittle the four crew members of MJN Air while boasting about his own prowess at flight simulators, the lute, and martial arts (Martin finds out the difficult way that this last is not idle boasting).
- Brick Joke: Quite a few. Among them:
- Douglas's fake smoke alarm in "Abu Dhabi".
- The water bottle in "Johannesburg".
- The travelling lemon of "Qikiqtarjuaq".
- The bassoon in "Gdansk".
- In "Helsinki", Arthur explains he always wanted to go to said city because of the name. A few episodes later, in "Kuala Lumpur", he expresses a desire to go to that city, and Carolyn icily cuts in to inform him that if it's for the same silly reason (this time, thinking that it's got something to do with koalas and oompa-loompas), she will be upset. And it is.
- Early on in "Limerick", the idea of letting Arthur do charades, which he is terrible at, is met with horror by Douglas and Martin. At the very end of the episode, having run out of anything else to do, and with several hours left on their flight, they finally cave.
- In "St. Petersburg", Carolyn tells Arthur that if they sell GERTI, they may have enough money "to buy an ice cream van." Three years later in "Zurich", Arthur turns Martin's van into an ice cream van.
- Martin's Captain at Swiss Air is called Loutre – or in English: Otter. So in a way, Martin is flying with a live otter in the flight deck after all.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Douglas imitates Herc's pronunciation of "walk" in Ottery St. Mary.
- Buffy Speak: The "Words of One Syllable" game in "Wokingham" tends to cause this:Douglas: I'll go do the... "man looks at plane" bit.
- But Now I Must Go: Though Carolyn has enough money at the end of "Zurich" to pay Martin a proper salary, he nevertheless moves on to Swiss Airways to continue his career.
- Car Ride Games: Arthur is fond of a game called Yellow Car, most prominently featured in "Ottery-St-Mary". The rules are as follows: when you see a yellow car, you say "yellow car". Arthur also assumes everyone on all car journeys is playing, even when they specifically tell him they're not, until:Martin: Turn straight around and ... yellow car ... back on the M5...
Douglas: Martin, why did you say "yellow car"?
Martin: I just happened to see one.
Douglas: But why did you say "yellow car"?
Martin: Look, I'm not playing it, I just wanted to say it before Arthur.
Douglas: That's what playing it is.
- Cats Are Mean: The cat MJN Air is transporting to 'Abu Dhabi' certainly qualifies as this, judging by the way it scratches Arthur through the bars of its cage. Still not mean enough to justify letting it freeze to death in the cargo hold, though.
- California Doubling: An in-universe example in 'Timbuktu', when the crew try to pass off Guspini on the Italian island of Sardinia as the eponymous remote African town, for the benefit of a drunken multi-millionaire. It almost works...
- "Abu Dhabi":Martin: And as Carolyn knows, whilst in flight, I am supreme commander of this vessel.
- "Yverdon-les-Bains":Douglas: [...] I think youll find that I am the supreme commander of th... (trails off)
Herc: Yall right, Commander?
Douglas: (horrified) What Have I Become?
- "Zurich" is layered top to bottom with these.
- Martin referring to himself as Martin du Creff when speaking over the PA in (now fluent) French, calling back to Qikitarjuaq.
- Herc and Douglas playing The Travelling Lemon.
- Arthur's appalling Australian accent.
- Back in "Edinburgh" Carolyn referred to Arthur's mysterious attraction to " bossy pony club types with Alice bands and stupid names". The Previously on for part 2 of "Zurich" is Arthur on the phone to a girl called Tiffy who does dressage.
- In "Kuala Lumpur", Arthur demonstrates his inability to lie by telling Douglas that his name is "Arth... nold ... man, er ... cat, sir, man". In the "Cabin Fever" video series, the Sports Correspondent is named Arthnold Manercatsirman.
- "Abu Dhabi":
- Calling Shotgun: In "Abu Dhabi", Martin and Douglas squabble over this. "The captain gets to sit in the front of an aircraft, because he's driving it. He doesn't get to sit in the front seat of any vehicle he happens to be in."
- In "Zurich" it happens again.
- Carrying a Cake: "Cake" is stretching things to the extreme, but Arthur's birthday... surprise for Carolyn in "Helsinki" ends up going over Ruth's head when she hits his mum with a blistering tirade of abuse.
- Cassandra Truth: When a policeman asks what Arthur has in the back of the van he's driving, his entirely truthful answer of "A thousand strawberry lollies and the Princess of Liechtenstein" is understandably not believed.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: From "Douz", the number one hydraulic system is reported as having failed. Douglas remains spectacularly unconcerned.Martin: [over urgent-sounding beeping] Ohh... hang on, we've lost one of the hydro systems.
Douglas: Mmm, possibly. The thing about GERTI, though, bless her, is that she is rather the aeroplane who cried "wolf". I particularly enjoyed her last Ground Proximity warning... the one when we were on the ground.
Martin: [flipping switches] Contents have fallen to zero. Standby pump to "On", check pressure... pressure's falling! No, we really have lost number one hydraulic system!
Douglas: [sarcastically] Ooh! What fun!
Martin: [increasingly concerned] Right. Er, right, right, erm, number one hydraulic system lost. Err... no special procedures. Er... note lack of rudder will reduce max crosswind limit to 25 knots.
Douglas: Won't it just? Arthur, break the emergency glass. I require my Biggles hat.
Martin: Douglas, this is serious!
Douglas: [over radio] Douz Tower, this is Golf Tango India, we've lost our number one hydraulic system, no operational effects, we continue to make our approach.
Douz ATC: Roger that, Golf Tango India. We'll have the fire truck on standby.
Douglas: You're quite the little ray of sunshine, aren't you Tower? [radio off] [bing bong!] Hello Carolyn, this is the pointy end. Just to let you know I'll be landing today without number one hydro.
Carolyn: [from the cabin] What!? Why?!
Douglas: Oh, I dunno, just to see if I can.
- Catchphrase: Arthur's is "Brilliant". Lampshaded by Douglas in "Douz":Douglas: Always at hand with the mot juste, aren't you Arthur? Yes, the Sahara Desert is "brilliant", just as Niagara Falls was "brilliant", the Northern Lights were "brilliant", and that chap from RyanAir burping the theme from The Muppet Show was "really brilliant".
- Chain of Deals: Douglas is quite good at this in his smuggling deals. In "Helsinki", he reveals that he started with a cheese sandwich and worked his way up to 500 euros' worth of orchids (which he's then going to trade for a load of seafood, etc.).
- Change the Uncomfortable Subject: Amazingly, Carolyn does it to herself, when she brings up the fact she uses dog-walking as an excuse to meet people, before fleeing from the flight deck.
- Chekhov's Gag: Often an apparent one-off joke will become important later in the episode;
- Douglas running his car on spare aeroplane fuel ("feeding a rabbit cheetah food") in 'Douz'; turns out you can also feed a cheetah for a short while with an awful lot of rabbit food.
- Both the freezing cold metal sticking to flesh, and the Gordon's Gin, in 'St Petersburg'.
- In "Zurich", a joke is made that Arthur put brake pads worth 2000 pounds in a van only worth 500. This is a twofer, as not only does the cash difference mean that MJN can buy back GERTI from Bruce Fraser, but it later turns out that Like Father, Like Son, Gordon hid his gold as the wiring aboard GERTI.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- In "Edinburgh", Douglas' kit bag contains a hip flask full of water, a bottle of shampoo for coloured hair, and a bottle of nail varnish. One of these items is a Chekhov's Gun, the others are red herrings.
- In "Ipswich", Martin tries mentioning he has an inner-ear abnormality during the swim test, which requires him to wear ear plugs while swimming. It comes up again in another test. Turns out he faints if he gets dizzy.
- Christmas Episode: "Molokai," featuring an impromptu celebration on the flight deck, with 'turkey' made from bits of a chicken sandwich and a green umbrella in lieu of a tree.
- Clean Food, Poisoned Fork: One of Douglas's whisky thefts involves disguising good whisky as bad whisky by applying a foul-tasting substance to the glass.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: The Spanish engineer Douglas wants to contact in "Johannesburg" can't come from the big airport at Albacete because his car's broken down. Douglas lampshades this, naturally.
- Code Emergency:
- The paranoid Madame Szyszko-Bohusz from "Gdansk" overhears Carolyn and Arthur's cryptic conversation about the Seven Dwarfs (regarding the latest cabin game) she assumes it's a case of this, and Carolyn sarcastically claims that they have a Disney character for every emergency.Carolyn: "Donald Duck" means lethal bird strike. "Dumbo" means pilot's dropped his magic feather. "Shere Khan" means tiger in the flight deck.
- Carolyn does use one Code Emergency for real - when she says Code Red to Arthur it means, "Go away, go away fast, go away now."
- The paranoid Madame Szyszko-Bohusz from "Gdansk" overhears Carolyn and Arthur's cryptic conversation about the Seven Dwarfs (regarding the latest cabin game) she assumes it's a case of this, and Carolyn sarcastically claims that they have a Disney character for every emergency.
- Cold Open: Some episodes open with self-contained pre-credit gags, whether plot-related or not, such as the characters making mock intercom announcements in their off-hours.
- Comic Role Play: Carolyn attempting to improve Arthur's stewarding skills in "Kuala Lumpur" by playing a succession of demanding passengers. Despite getting extremely flustered and confused, he does to his credit keep all their demands in his head (making up names on the spot for each of them) and finds an unorthodox way to meet them all.
- Comic Trio: Played with in "Ottery St. Mary", with its very The Three Stooges-esque premise involving Martin, Douglas and Arthur being hired to move a piano. Martin is responsible for the "scheme", such as it is (and constantly excuses himself from heavy lifting because of his sprained ankle); meanwhile Arthur and Douglas' usual roles are switched when it's revealed that it was Douglas who lost the van keys and thus derailed A Simple Plan.
- Could Say It, But...: Mister Sergeant tries doing this for Arthur in "Ipswich", but since it's Arthur, the hints go completely over his head. And it later turns out Arthur wasn't even paying attention to begin with.
- Credits Gag:
- Benedict Cumberbatch reads the credits to "Qikiqtarjuaq" in the fake French accent Martin was forced to assume after Douglas informed everyone he was French.
- He also slips into a Spanish accent for the final credits of "Johannesburg", which despite the name takes place mostly in Spain.
- In "Ottery St. Mary", a piano version of "Those Magnificent Menin Their Flying Machines" is playing as Benedict reads the end credits instead of the usual "Overture to Ruslan And Ludmilla." When Benedict/Martin finishes reading, Douglas starts singing the chorus, joined by Arthur and Martin.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right:
- The closing 30 seconds or so of 'St. Petersburg'. Arthur is getting... smart.
- Also at the end of "Ottery St. Mary": Douglas, not Arthur, was the one to lose the van keys, which Arthur was sure he had given back.
- Curse Cut Short:
- During the First Officers' training exercise in 'Ipswich':Instructor: Step Four, propose a solution: "One thing we could do is reduce our speed." Step Five, obtain buy-in to your idea: "How does that sound to you?"
Douglas: Well, frankly, it sounds like the biggest load of—
Instructor: —Nonono, that's what you might say...
- Also, from "Qikiqtarjuaq":Douglas: If it helps, the cabin address wasn't on for any of that.
Douglas: No one heard it but you and me.
Martin: You weren't pressing the mute button, and the red light was on!
Douglas: True, but while you were out playing hunt-the-lemon, I switched the LED round. Now the red light comes on when the PA is off.
Martin: But...that would mean it's on now.
Douglas: It is. But now I have got my thumb on the mute button.
Martin: You absolute—!
- During the First Officers' training exercise in 'Ipswich':
- Danger Deadpan: Douglas during the bird strike and engine fire in St. Petersburg. Outside of a quick, Christ!, he sounds calm and measured. Martin remains professional and lands the plane despite sounding scared out of his mind.
- Death in the Clouds: Not a murder, but in "Paris", a bottle of Talisker goes missing, and it's up to the MJN crew to find the thief.
- Description Cut: "Douz" has Martin taking control of GERTI from Douglas, about to land her in strong headwind, insisting he can manage it. The scene then skips ahead to Carolyn reciting how epically he failed to do so (two go-arounds and he nearly crashed the plane).
- Deus ex Machina: GERTI is literally lined with gold.
- Didn't We Use This Joke Already?: In 'Vaduz', Carolyn mentions that she's going to Liechtenstein in the middle of a couple's tiff, and Herc remarks that that's "a bit of an overreaction". Carolyn says the same thing later, after Herc says he's going to Switzerland if she's not serious about the relationship.Herc: I did that joke already.
Carolyn: It's funnier now.
Herc: No, it's not.
Carolyn: Oh yes it is, because the stakes are higher.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: Martin with Linda, the pilot from Air Caledonia in 'Newcastle'.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Deconstructed. After Mr. Leeman thoroughly insults Martin and reduces him to tears, Martin convinces Arthur to break into the toilet and hose Mr. Leeman down as soon as he starts smoking again. But when Mr. Leeman suffers a lethal heart attack from being showered in foam, Martin is horrified and ashamed.
- Drunk on Milk: Played with when Douglas and Arthur are drinking pineapple juice in the Kilkenny airport in "Uskerty":Douglas: Gerry, two more pineapple juices over here.Gerry: Er, d'you not think maybe you've had enough?Gerry: Only they're quite acidic. You can get yourself a stomach ulcer.Douglas: Don't worry, Gerry. We can handle our juice.
- Dumbass Has a Point:
- Arthur in 'Douz'; "Could we just drive there?"
- Mr Birling nearly gives this trope by name when Arthur is pointing out how unlike Timbuktu the place MJN are calling Timbuktu is: "The idiot boy is right!"
- Eagleland: Mr. Leeman is a solid Type 2: Rude, loud and generally obnoxious.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The audience's laughter in the first episodes is quieter and politer (as you might expect for a new Radio 4 sitcom from a then-unknown writer). By series 3 they're liable to go into hysterics at every line, likely down to Benedict Cumberbatch's star rising with Sherlock.
- The credits become noticeably more enthusiastic with time. In the first two episodes, Benedict Cumberbatch does them in a polite but rather unspectacular way. Then they start to get more enthusiastic and by series 4 the credits go for as long as Mr Cumberbatch doesn't run out of air.... a Pozzitive production for the BEEBEECEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!...
- Carolyn was originally intended as more of a supporting character, with Douglas and Martin as the leads; this setup changed when Stephanie Cole was cast, but is still apparent in several Series 1 episodes that were written prior to that.
- The first two series suggest that Arthur is quite a big guy (his uniform is described as baggy when Martin has to wear it, and he's portrayed as a Big Eater to the point that he eats seven quiches in one sitting). Finnemore dropped it upon discovering that listeners didn't seem to picture him that way.
- In the first series, GERTI's size and specifications tend to change according to the plot, or for the sake of jokes. Around series 2 the plane becomes established as having 16 seats and two engines.
- Eldritch Abomination: The picture of Goofy that Arthur paints on the side of Martin's van is variously interpreted as "an evil hippo", the Nachzehrer (by Theresa) and "some kind of demon".
- Epic Fail: MJN Air is required to take a safety test during "Ipswich" and it goes badly. Really badly. It starts with Arthur being asked to take the lead, and managing to misinterpret the instructions to hold the belt of the person in front of them to include himself as well. This means the four get lost in a mock-up of a plane, until Martin passes out due to a medical condition. Then Arthur decides to take his smoke hood off (because this is a mock-up of a plane that is on fire, and therefore filled with actual smoke. Hence the smoke hoods). Slightly more impressive is that neither Carolyn or Douglas noticed they were going around in circles for four minutes.
- Eskimos Aren't Real: In "Timbuktu", Mr. Birling pays MJN Air to take him to the eponymous city so that he can prove to his wife that it exists. While Timbuktu does, in fact, exist, a civil war in Mali prevents the characters from going there, leading to the implementation of a Zany Scheme.
- Everybody Knew Already: In "Wokingham", Martin finally decides to confess to his family that he's a man with a van, only to later find out from his mother that they all already knew and just didn't mention it because as he never said, they assumed he didn't want to talk about it.
- Exact Words:
- In "Edinburgh", Arthur mentions that last Birling Day the old miser gave out £500 tips, and that they can't expect the same amount this time around. He just fails to specify that £500 was actually much less that Mr. Birling typically hands out.
- In "Xinzhou", Douglas assures Martin he has not touched his mysteriously bacon-scented shirt. He has, however, used Martin's iron to fry himself a bacon butty.
- Expecting Someone Taller: Martin is surprised to learn that the King of Liechtenstein is a small child.
- Expensive Glass of Crap: In "Molokai", Carolyn gets back at rude Russian oligarch Mr. Alyakhin by passing off cheap box wine as the expensive stuff he'd brought aboard and ordered served to him instead of the wines on their list after he calls her a "baboushka".
- Expospeak Gag: A "rabbit of negative euphoria" (not a happy bunny) among others.
- Family Theme Naming: Hercules' brothers are named Wellington and Harrier. His sister is named Sarah — their father was "eccentric, not mad."
- Fictional Holiday: In addition to being almost unreasonably enthusiastic about Christmas and anyone's birthday, Arthur also celebrates Birling Day, Birling Day Eve, GERTI's birthday and Summer Christmas. Martin speculates that the latter might have something to do with his half-Australian heritage.
- "Johannesburg" begins with the pilots being reprimanded for "dropping a bomb" (a melted-together mass of party sweets) that narrowly missed a BMW. It ends with them "firing a missile" that does hit one (a bottle of water left inside the jet exhaust).
- In "St. Petersburg", the episode which featured Gordon trying to steal GERTI, Carolyn said, "I can see the next three hours are going to fly by on gilded wings." She had no idea how right she was - it was revealed in Zurich, the episode in which Gordon tried to steal GERTI yet again, that GERTI is literally partly made of gold (specifically, her wiring is gold instead of the usual copper).
- In "Zurich", GERTI gets auctioned off as Lot 42. Also known as the answer to life, the universe, and everything. She turned out to be the solution to everyone's problems.
- Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Douglas as the Cynic, Arthur as the Optimist, Carolyn as the Realist, Martin as the Conflicted. (In later episodes, complemented by Herc as the Apathetic.)
- French Jerk: The corrupt air traffic controller in 'Douz', who siphons off GERTI's fuel supply (leading to the air conditioning switching off) and parks four vehicles around the plane until he is paid the exorbitant fees he has charged them for their time at the airfield, which are also the exorbitant fees for the last plane he stranded there.
- Friendship Moment:
- "Fitton", while not a crowning example, is the only episode where Martin and Douglas are shown actually laughing at the same joke. And it's a joke partially at Martin's expense, to boot.
- The Christmas celebration in "Molokai".
- In "Wokingham", the crew unites to make Martin look good in front of his family and humiliate his Big Brother Bully; Douglas even embarrasses himself to make Martin sound good.
- MJN picking Martin up after his interview in "Yverdon-les-Bains".
- Fun with Acronyms: MJN is revealed in "Fitton" to stand for "My Jet Now", a name chosen after Carolyn won GERTI in an acrimonious divorce. In "Zurich", the reborn airline is christened "OJS" for "Our Jet Still".
- Germanic Efficiency: The eccentric CEO of Swiss Air hates this stereotype... but for obvious reasons, he likes his pilots to be precise and rule-abiding.
- Get a Stupid Answer: In-universe in 'Xinzhou', in which they play a game pairing up Questioning Titles with ones that answer them, such as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Gandhi," and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape? 12 Monkeys."
- The Ghost: All the characters except Arthur in the Cabin Fever videos. He's the only one who appears on screen or whose voice is heard, but he'll often relay messages to the audience from the others.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Mr. Leeman, the Jerkass American passenger in "Boston", smokes a cigarette on board the plane toilet repeatedly, in blatant disregard of the no-smoking rules. It eventually gets him killed by accident.
- Grail in the Garbage: Central to the plot of "Zurich" part 2. It turns out GERTI's wiring is made of gold instead of copper, which is why Gordon has been so hell-bent on buying the plane out from under Carolyn.
- Grand Finale: "Zurich," a two-parter (originally intended as a 45-minute special, but later re-edited into two episodes).
- Gretzky Has the Ball: Birling Day involves flying Mr Birling to the "final" of the Six Nations, which is actually a round-robin tournament. By 'Timbuktu', it's been retconned to the final of the Rugby World Cup.John Finnemore: In this episode, there's a running joke that Arthur doesn't know much about rugby. And also in this episode, Wales apparently play France in Scotland, for some reason, at the previously little-known 'final' of the Six Nations. Rugby fans may at this point be able to spot where Arthur gets it from...
- Heir Club for Men: The annoying young King Maximilian of Liechtenstein has six older sisters.
- Henpecked Husband: Carolyn's brother-in-law responds to being told that they've left his wife in Helsinki with "Oh. Well done you!" He's also led his wife to believe that he's deaf just so he has an excuse to ignore her.
- The Hilarity of Hats: Martin's captain's hat apparently looks even sillier than it would otherwise because its wearer is so uncaptainly.Martin: Look, I keep telling you, I didnt ask for extra. Its just the standard amount of gold braid they put on a captains hat these days.
Douglas: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, maybe...
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: John Finnemore can sing just fine. Arthur's singing is frankly painful (as heard in "Fitton", "Ottery St Mary" and "Zurich").
- Hurricane of Euphemisms: Douglas in "Gdansk", trying to give an oblivious Martin a hint to the last of the Seven Dwarfs after promising Carolyn he wouldn't tell him the answer:Douglas: Then I suggest you seek out a... healthcare professional. [Martin doesn't get it] No, Martin, listen: if you have those six symptoms, I strongly suggest you seek out a medic. [still nothing] ...A quack! A sawbones! Someone who can tell you, in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, "What's Up?"
- Hypocritical Humour: Martin's description of an Obstructive Bureaucrat in 'Douz'.Martin: He's alright really, he's just one of those little men who've got a little job so need to spend the whole time proving they're just as good as anyone else — you know the type.
Douglas: It rings a faint bell.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode is the name of a town or city in alphabetical order: Abu Dhabi, Boston, Cremona, etc. They're ostensibly the setting or flight destination for that episode, but there are variations on this — sometimes they travel there by other means ('Ottery St. Mary', 'Wokingham'), sometimes they spend the whole episode in one place ('Fitton'), sometimes they set off for a destination but don't get there before the episode ends ('Johannesburg', 'Limerick'), sometimes they only pretend to go there ('Kuala Lumpur', 'Timbuktu')...
- Parodied by the video spin-off "Cabin Fever", which is about Arthur in self-isolation during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic - every episode is called "Fitton". Except for the last, which is called Great Spinwell in honour of the location of Arthur's new flatshare.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Douglas's reaction to Helsinki, in the episode of the same name: "I've always thought it sounds like a sink in hell." Inverted by Arthur, who really likes the sound of Helsinki ("half helter-skelter and half twinkly"), as well as Kuala Lumpur and Timbuktu.
- I Know Karate: Kieran in "Helsinki", right down to the classic "my hands are classified as deadly weapons" boast. He's just dying for an excuse to use it in self-defence...
- Impossible Task: The Swiss Airways candidate theory exam is specifically designed to return scores no higher than 60% (as anyone scoring higher would have had to memorise every word of the operating manuals, no matter how trivial). When Martin scores 99% (and only because they misread a number in his one "wrong" answer), they assume he's cheated.
- I Think You Broke Him: Douglas, on Arthur's stuttering reaction to being asked to describe his father in "St Petersburg".Douglas: Good Lord, Martin, I think you've broken him. [..] I think - I think what we may be witnessing here is Arthur attempting to describe something with an adjective other than "brilliant".
- It Tastes Like Feet:
- "St. Petersburg."Martin: How was your soggy... brown... thing?
Douglas: It lived up to its promise. How was your "bowl of grey"?
- Also comes up with coffee earlier in the episode.Arthur: Here you are, Skip. Nice hot cup of coffee.
Martin: Augh. It's cold.
Arthur: Nice cup of coffee.
Martin: It's horrible.
Arthur: Cup of coffee.
Martin: Not even sure it is coffee...
- "St. Petersburg."
- It Was with You All Along: In "Zurich", it turns out that the answer to MJN's financial problems was right there onboard GERTI the whole time. And not only that, but once the gold wire has been stripped out and replaced with regular copper wire, GERTI will be much lighter and more efficient.
- Not to mention that Martin isn't as bad a pilot as we might have thought - GERTI is very heavy for her size.
- MJN seem to encounter a variety of these, largely as passengers, including Hamilton Leeman, Hester McCauley, Yves Juteau, Carolyn's sister Ruth and her nephew Kieran, and more notably, regulars Mr. Birling and Gordon Shappey.
- Mr. Sargent from "Ipswich" is a subversion, he initially jokes affably with the crew and even tries to help Arthur with his revision, but due to his Too Dumb to Live nature, as well as Douglas' Deadpan Snarker comments which are mostly directed at him (and seem more insulting than usual), he becomes extremely agitated.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Douglas and Carolyn both have some genuine affection for Martin (although it's more evident in later series).
- Just Plane Wrong: Averted, Finnemore does extensive research. His father was actually an airline pilot and was given a credit in the finale as "Aviation Consultant".
- Lampshade Hanging: Third series episode "Newcastle" features a different actor playing Martin, owing to Benedict Cumberbatch being off sick. (In the two preceding episodes, his voice is noticeably croaky, to boot.) In a lampshade-heavy Cold Opening presumably written at the last minute, the other three cast members have a conversation about what would happen if one of MJN's two pilots were to call in sick. When the recast Martin enters the flight deck, Arthur comments that he's looking extremely well, but Douglas claims he looks exactly the same as always.
- Last-Second Word Swap: In "Kuala Lumpur", Arthur tries to lie to Martin by telling him he's been at an Italian restaurant. Thinking that sounds suspiciously like something they'd recently done together, Martin asks who he went with.Arthur: Douglas and you... wouldn't know the other one.
Martin: What was his name?
Arthur: Marrr...k. Uhh... Mark Ramprakash!
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In "Limerick", when Martin tries using his dodgy knock-off watch to tell the time, Douglas corrects him that it's 6.33 PM - this is three minutes into the show, which was originally broadcast at 6.30 PM. Later on, at the end of the episode, Martin notes the time is just coming up to 7.00.
- Locked Room Mystery: A plane in flight, and a disappearing bottle of premium whisky, make for a classic example of this in 'Paris'.
- Loophole Abuse: The resolution of "Ipswich", when Arthur's ineptitude is about to get MJN closed down: Douglas realises that there's no obligation to have Arthur on staff at all because GERTI doesn't have the minimum number of seats required for a steward to be compulsory, resulting in Arthur being downgraded to the passenger roster.
- Malaproper: Arthur's dimness includes confusing unusual words with each other. For example, in "Ipswich", after watching a nature documentary, he enthusiastically tells Douglas and Martin about the idea of alpha dogs, beta dogs, and "amigo dogs".Martin: "Amigo dogs"??
Douglas: Surely you've heard of amigo dogs. Spanish breed, very friendly, often found in threes.
- Mistaken for Gay:
- After Martin gets over his animosity for the other Martin in "Rotterdam", his friendliness is misinterpreted. His frenzied reaction is quite priceless.Martin: Do you live in Fitton, Martin?
Other Martin: Yes.
Martin: You want to... go for a drink some time?
Other Martin: Martin... look, I'm really sorry, I'm not...
Martin: (realising) Oh no! No!!
- Also, Linda in 'Newcastle' when she mentions that her hobbies include rally driving with another woman.
- After Martin gets over his animosity for the other Martin in "Rotterdam", his friendliness is misinterpreted. His frenzied reaction is quite priceless.
- Mistaken for Prank Call: When Princess Theresa of Liechtenstein first calls MJN in "Vaduz", Martin is convinced the caller is one of Douglas' friends on a wind-up. Douglas insists this isn't the case and takes the phone... operating under the assumption that Martin is responsible for the prank call and tried to throw him off by answering the phone first. One quick Google search and they are both suddenly a lot less sarcastic...
- Mondegreen Gag: In "Molokai", Arthur is convinced the Christmas carol goes "Get dressed, ye merry gentlemen." Martin and Douglas argue over whether it's actually "God rest ye, merry gentlemen" or "God rest ye merry, gentlemen."
- Mood Whiplash:
- St. Petersburg goes from word games to an impending crash and sirens going off.
- Subverted in "Wokingham"; Martin gets the rest of the crew to humiliate his brother by regaling the rest of his family with stories of what a great pilot he is. At the end, Martin's mother suggests he may have been a bit too cruel, asks him not to do anything like it again and assures him that his brother loves him. For a moment it seems like Martin is genuinely guilty... but it soon becomes clear that it was one of the most enjoyable things he's ever done regardless.
- More Dakka: Flying after the polar bears in "Qikiqtarjuaq", Douglas imagines himself as a fighter pilot.Dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka!
- Morton's Fork: Martin's dilemma in "Abu Dhabi" is that regardless of which option he takes (land the plane, costing MJN thousands for the diversion, or let a customer's cat die in the unheated cargo hold), he believes Carolyn will hunt him down and murder him "with knives". Fortunately, Douglas has an idea.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: In "Limerick," Douglas, Martin and Carolyn play a game of "real people with evil-sounding names".
- Never Heard That One Before: Hester Macauley has long since gotten fed up of hearing people say "I'm your biggest fan". Especially when they're only a fan of Quest for Camelot, a role she took because her little cat needed a dialysis machine, rather than her award-winning stage performances.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Twice, in "Gdansk". Arthur's well-meaning attempts to help Martin win a bet send Madame Szyszko-Bohusz into a paranoid frenzy. At the end, Carolyn has finally succeeded in getting Madame Szyszko-Bohusz to trust her when Martin using the cabin address to relay the names of the Seven Dwarfs sets her off again.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Gordon Shappey hadn't tried to steal GERTI at St. Petersburg, or been so nasty about how he was continually trying to get Carolyn to sell GERTI to him, then when they actually needed to sell the plane in the final episode, Carolyn probably would have sold Gerti to Gordon without any fuss.
- Non-Indicative Name:
- Noodle Implements: In "Qikiqtarjuaq", Douglas puts Martin on the spot by asking him over the address system to tell the passengers the story of how he once escaped from a polar bear "using only, if I recall correctly, an egg-whisk and a pogo stick." And, to his credit, he does.
- Noodle Incident:
- In "Douz", Douglas mentions he once had a similar incident to the problem MJN faces involving a snowplough.
- In "Gdansk":Arthur: I'll bet with you, Douglas!
Carolyn: No you won't.
Arthur: Oh, but mum-
Carolyn: Don't 'oh, but mum' me. Who owns your car?
Arthur: ... Douglas does.
Carolyn: Well then.
Athur: He still lets me drive it!
Douglas: And at a very competitive hourly rate!
- In "Kuala Lumpur":Douglas: If its any consolation, I thought you coped very well with being anchovied. You had a real, quiet dignity.
- In "Uskerty":Douglas: Peach Schnapps is to Arthur what water is to gremlins.
Arthur: I was terrifying.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: In "Boston", when Martin makes several increasingly sarcastic requests for any doctor on board to help a patient in the galley, knowing there's a "Dr. Pryce" on the roster, the man does come forward.Dr. Pryce: Hullo?Martin: Oh, hello! Mr. Pryce, is it?Dr. Pryce: Dr. Pryce.Martin: (sarcastically) Oh, a doctor! Good lord! What a stroke of luck! The very thing were looking for. Well, this is the patient.Dr. Pryce: Okay, lets have a look. Okay. Uh-huh.Martin: What dyou think?Dr. Pryce: I think probably a bridge.Martin: A bridge?Dr. Pryce: Yeah, a tunnels obviously out of the question, but if you really need to get past him, you could use a couple of drinks trolleys and a stretcher to rig up a rudimentary cantilever bridge. That at least is my professional opinion as a PhD in civil engineering. Or has one of us made some sort of really embarrassing mistake?Martin: Im so sorry. I didntDr. Pryce: Yeah. Oh, and by the way, I dunno anything about medicine, but this guy doesnt need a doctor.Martin: What?Dr. Pryce: Not any more!
- Not This One, That One: Subverted in "Newcastle". Linda asks the crew whether the plane she is looking at is theirs, in an admiring tone. Since GERTI is parked next to a much better plane, Douglas assumes that she's talking about the better plane and corrects her. She then tells him that she was talking about GERTI.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: Invoked in "Uskerty", when Arthur asks Gerry to polish a glass just for atmosphere.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: A corrupt one in Douz air-traffic control, who keeps racking up ridiculous charges knowing that nobody can leave without his say-so.
- Once a Season:
- The annual tradition of "Birling Day," when they fly the wealthy Mr Birling to wherever the final of the Six Nations is being held, whilst Douglas steals the bottle of very expensive Talisker whisky provided for him. They take him to 'Edinburgh' in series one, 'Paris' in series three, and 'Timbuktu' in series four (it's not really in Timbuktu, but he decides he'd rather go there than Twickenham). Only series two didn't have one (although it gets a nod — one of the stolen bottles of Talisker is a minor plot point in 'Kuala Lumpur').
- Every series except the third has had a Bottle Episode featuring as little guest cast as possible, if any, and set entirely aboard GERTI, with little plot beyond the characters' interactions with each other.
- One Steve Limit:
- Subverted in 'Rotterdam', with the two Martins: Martin Crieff, the pilot, and Martin Davenport, the actor hired to play a pilot in the MJN safety film.
- Played with in 'Helsinki', when Arthur invokes the trope to conceal the fact that he has created a false persona 'Arthur Milliner' to book GERTI in secret.Arthur: That was the clever bit. It's the last name you'd expect me to use, because it actually is my name!
- Opinion Flip Flop: Carolyn's sister initially berates her grandson for attacking Martin with his kung-fu skills, until she hears Martin clipped him on the ear, which provoked the attack in the first place. Then she starts laying into Martin for attacking a "defenceless child", in spite of the evidence proving this is bunk, like the prone and beaten Martin.
- Opposite Day: "Timbuktu" — "It's been a topsy-turvy sort of Birling Day, hasn't it? We flew away from the rugby, Mr. Birling got soberer and soberer, and Arthur ruined everything with his knowledge and erudition." And Carolyn stole the Talisker from Douglas... or tried, anyway.
- Out of Order: Each episode's titular location starts with a different letter of the alphabet, starting with A and the the intention being for the complete series to run A-Z (see Idiosyncratic Episode Naming above). In series 2 "Helsinki" and "Gdansk" are swapped aroundnote , and series 3 goes Q-P-N-Onote . The originally intended alphabetical order was reinstated for the complete series boxset.
- Overreacting Airport Security: In the final scene of "Boston", Martin, flush with self-confidence after strongarming an obstructive paramedic, tries the same tactic with one of these when he objects to Martin's nose hair trimmer. The results are predictable.
- The Paranoiac: Madame Syzszco-Bohusz is certifiably insane, convinced that she has people out to get her, making Carolyn's day a nightmare of constant panic attacks from things such as the height of the arm rests, or the salt on her cashew nuts. Fortunately, she's also utterly Sarcasm-Blind.
- Pass the Popcorn: In the final scene of "Cremona", we learn that Carolyn was planning to engage in this, and this is why she was in such a good mood when she phoned Martin and invited him, Douglas, and Arthur to dinner at the Excelsior Hotel. She was the one who sent the fans of Hester Macauley's performance in Quest for Camelot to the Excelsior as revenge for Hester's rudeness toward her, and was planning to sit back and watch the chaos unfold over dinner.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: In "Ipswich", Douglas takes issue with an examiner's use of "glid", an archaic but otherwise legitimate past tense form of "glide".Mr Sargent: There's something funny about that?
Douglas: Not in the least, no, I'm very glad we glid.
- Playing Both Sides: In "Cremona", Carolyn is her usual brusque self toward film star Hester Macauley, who retaliates in kind and gains the upper hand by threatening to cancel the contract with MJN unless Carolyn waits on her for the entire flight; Douglas decides to use the bitterness that develops between them to his advantage. He tells Carolyn to get revenge on Hester by telling local fans of her appearance in Quest for Camelot - a role she hated and that has attracted a fanbase she hates even more - that she is staying at the Excelsior Hotel in Cremona. Then, he defuses Hester's anger by getting the fans to pay a fortune to pretend to be hotel staff to give them a chance to meet her, and uses the proceeds to pay for Hester to stay in the state rooms Martin allowed himself to be talked into booking, while Douglas himself takes Hester's old room.
- Poor Communication Kills: In "Vaduz", Martin is anxious to get through procedures with ground handling agent Otto, and insists they can handle almost everything themselves - until Otto mentions fuel, and he says they'll need about three thousand litres. However, Otto interprets this to mean they need an extra three thousand litres, whereas Martin actually means they need to be topped up to three thousand litres. Although the resulting extra weight does not put them above maximum takeoff weight, it does mean they're above maximum landing weight when they get to Fitton, and they end up flying in circles around the airport for several hours to use up the extra fuel.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: In "Abu Dhabi", Martin seems to think that Cpt. Ahab (of Moby-Dick fame) and Cpt. Bligh (of Real Life and Mutiny on the Bounty fame) are friends of Douglas' from Air England, and that Cpt. Queeg is something Douglas made up. He eventually cottons on that they're fictional characters.
- The Precious, Precious Car: The airstrip controller's BMW in 'Johannesburg.' In the final scene of the episode, Martin rushes through the pre-flight walkaround and starts GERTI's engines... forgetting that Arthur had been instructed to put a bottle of water on the still-hot engine to boil it for tea. The bottle is launched straight into the BMW's windscreen.
- Preppy Name: Several of Arthur's ex-girlfriends, who Carolyn describes in "Edinburgh" as "bossy, pony-club types with Alice bands and stupid names" like Fliss, Minty, Libbett, and Pobs (when Arthur starts reciting a list, Carolyn says it sounds like he's brainstorming names for Labrador puppies). In "Zurich", he is heard talking to his latest girlfriend, Tiffy.
- The Prima Donna: The entire orchestra in 'Gdansk', but Madame Szyszko-Bohusz takes the prize.Carolyn: Listen to this! This chamber orchestra were picking up listen to what their conductors put under Any Special Requirements: "The first violins will not sit together; the second violins will not sit apart. The harpist will ignore you unless your aura is orange; there is nothing you can do to make your aura more orange. The tubist must on no account be given alcohol; the conductor must at all times be given alcohol. He will also require the toilet to himself for an hour before landing. And, most importantly, the bassoonist, Madame Szyszko-Bohusz, will be working under the presumption that you are trying to kill her unless proved otherwise, so avoid approaching her with blunt instruments, sharp knives or hot liquids." Fantastic, how am I supposed to serve her dinner?
- Pyrrhic Victory: Martin sort-of wins the final bet with Douglas in "Gdansk"... at the cost of revealing a pretty sad little fact about himself, namely that he isn't actually paid by Carolyn at all. Martin doesn't even seem to notice, just happy to have "won" against Douglas for once.
- A Rare Sentence: In 'Gdansk', in the midst of a game of "who can remember the names of all the Seven Dwarfs first";Martin: Come on, Douglas, I've got to get my last dwarf before Carolyn does!
Douglas: There's a phrase you don't hear very often. Since the dwarf-hunting ban.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Martin gets one in "Boston" courtesy of an uncooperative passenger who eviscerates his lack of credentials as a pilot.
- Carolyn's sister gives her a scorching one in "Helsinki" over her failures in her professional and personal lives.
- Repetitive Name: Discussed and defied in 'Ipswich':Douglas: Tell me, Mr. Sargent: were you in the RAF, by any chance?
Sargent: I certainly was.
Douglas: And were you a sergeant, Mr. Sargent?
Sargent: No, sir, I wasnt a sergeant because as we just established, I was in the R.A.-bleedin-F., not the bleedin Army, so I was a warrant officer. And since my name is not Warren Tofficer, this occasioned no bleedin mirth whatsoever.note
- Reveal Shot: Finnemore has said this is one of the things he likes about radio comedy; counter-intuitively, it's easier to write visual gags, because you don't have to use artificial camera tricks to control what the viewer can "see", you just don't tell them things until the moment it's funniest to do so.
- Reverse Psychology: When Martin complains that he never wins anything in "Gdansk", Douglas bets Martin that next air traffic controller they contact will be female. Martin is suspicious of this, given that almost all ATCs are male, and bets the other way. Predictably, he loses. This makes him incredibly paranoid when it comes to the cheesecake/strudel wager... and he still takes the long shot, and loses again.
- Rewatch Bonus: On a second go-around of "Fitton", it is possible to notice the tune Arthur is trying to recall... and just how badly he's messing it up.
- Rhyming with Itself: Several of Martin's attempts at Douglas' "rhyming journeys" game in "St Petersburg", starting with York to New York, and Hong Kong to itself ("Hong to Kong", Douglas jokes).
- Riding into the Sunset: In Zurich.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: Martin accuses Douglas of stealing the Talisker twice in "Paris", but doesn't actually get to find out what happened until the prospect of a thousand-pound reward from Mr Birling gets him to give it up.
- Royal Brat: King Maxmillian of Liechtenstein. This is in direct contrast to his older sister, Princess Theresa, who is the epitome of Modest Royalty.
- Royal Mess: "Vaduz" features the King of Liechtenstein, which is really a principality. Word of God, heading off the inevitable angry letters, pointed out that this was because a particular joke relies on the regal, senior expectations associated with a "king", whereas our expectations of a "prince" would not be so subverted by The Reveal that he's a small child.
- Rule of Funny: From "Gdansk", Madame Szyszko-Bohusz having her bassoon clearly out of its case and assembled on the seat next to her while in flight would be ridiculous, leaving an expensive instrument vulnerable to damage - in fact a bassoon is over 4 feet long it probably wouldn't even fit in the seat - seeing as it would be hard for Carolyn to identify it in its case.
- Running Gag: Many episodes have Douglas and Martin engaging in some kind of word game ("Brians of Britain", flights between rhyming destinations, etc) to ease the boredom, and these serve as a running gag within the episode.
- Sadly Mythtaken: In-universe in "Cremona", it seems that Quest for Camelot (not that one) takes quite a few liberties with Arthurian Legend, to the confusion of Martin and Douglas. For one thing, Excalibur is a Living MacGuffin, not a sword. For another, he turns out to be a vampire.
- Sand In My Eyes: In "Boston", Martin insists that Mr. Leeman didn't make him cry, he just blew smoke in his eyes. Douglas immediately launches into a sarcastic rendition of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".
- Sarcastic Confession: After hiding the orchids Douglas is smuggling to Helsinki;Carolyn: What are you all doing in here?
Martin: Arranging flowers.
Carolyn: Don't get sarcastic with me!
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Martin initially takes this stance with Mr. Birling... when he thinks that Birling's typical tip is around £500. He changes his tune when he discovers they more usually run to several thousand pounds (and it is not stated what they would get when Birling's team wins the Six Nations, although it is implied to run into five digits).
- Secret Test of Character: Defied when Martin refuses to bow and scrape to Mr. Birling in "Edinburgh":Mr. Birling: It occurs to me that in a fairytale I would be so impressed by your failure to be bought, I would at the end of the trip give you an even bigger tip than anyone else. What you should know about me, though, is that I like being toadied to, and I pay people to do it... so you won't be getting a sausage. Cheerio!
- Sequel Hook: The Bolivian Army Ending of 'Yverdon-Les-Bains', to cover the possibilities of the series being renewed or not.
- Serious Business: The various word games that the crew play in many episodes to assuage boredom can get pretty intense.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Douglas' scheme to get the whiskey in "Edinburgh". He successfully sends Arthur on a snipe hunt, wherein he steals all the whiskey minatures, and places them in the bottle of cheap whiskey that Martin serves to Mr. Birling, who proceeds to get so drunk he's in no condition to stand. So Douglas doesn't get his whiskey, and nobody gets any generous tips.
- In 'Boston', a passenger named Mr. Leeman dies and is inspected by a Dr. Price. In episode 4 of series two of Fawlty Towers, a guest named Mr. Leeman dies and is inspected by Dr. Price. Leeman's first name of Hamilton is a reference to another Fawlty Towers guest called Mr Hamilton who was likewise an obnoxious American.
- In 'Douz', as they're taking the plane out of Douz airport, Martin tells Douglas "Right hand down a bit, Number One."
- Meanwhile, the cricket team, as celebration, are singing "Self-Preservation Society".
- In 'Fitton', the majority of the episode is spent on stand-by waiting for a passenger named Goddard. Though Goddard does eventually arrive.
- In 'Gdansk', Douglas and Martin bet on which is more popular between cheesecake and strudel.
- In 'Johannesburg', Martin wears a pair of Aviators and Arthur mentions that he looks like a certain other vertically challenged pilot. Being Arthur, he gets the name of the movie wrong, causing Martin to express his dismay at being likened to Jeremy Clarkson.
- In 'Kuala Lumpur', during a "Mystery Passenger" roleplay, Arthur refers to a Scottish passenger he has created as Mrs. Badcrumble.
- In 'Molokai', Russian oligarch Mr. Alyakhin owns a company which sells "massive yachts". As a special bonus reference Mr Finnemore himself wrote many sketches for that show including all the massive yacht ones.
- 'Paris' is basically one big shout out to BBC's Sherlock, in which Benedict Cumberbatch stars.
- 'Zurich' has Douglas and Arthur repeatedly saying "Bruce" in bad Australian accents.
- A Simple Plan: 'Ottery St. Mary'. Drive van to house; pick up piano; drive piano 200 miles to destination. Looking at that plan, you'd be stumped as to how they manage to involve an aeroplane in it at all.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Martin's elder brother Simon is almost venerated in his family because he works for the council. He's almost Innocently Insensitive more than anything though, and his mother informs Martin that Simon is incredibly proud of his young brother even before he realised he was a pilot.
- Smart Ball: Invoked in "Timbuktu", where Arthur ends up "ruining everything with his knowledge and erudition".
- Snipe Hunt: As part of a scheme to steal Mr. Birling's Talisker in "Edinburgh", Douglas sends Arthur onto the roof of the plane to adjust the aerial.
- Spanner in the Works: Arthur. "It has long been a maxim of MJN Air that when Arthur stops helping, we can do anything."
- Stealing from the Hotel: In "Cremona", Douglas has been in his room at the Excelsior Hotel for five minutes when Martin informs him they can't afford to stay there:Douglas: I've got things to pack.Martin: You can't have unpacked already.Douglas: I didn't say they were my things.
- Stereotype Flip: In "Douz", MJN has to pick up a Scottish sports team who've been stranded. Martin and Douglas are momentarily baffled by the fact they're a Scottish cricket team, rather than, say, football.
- Story Arc: The thread of Martin's possible move to Zurich runs through series four, including his romance with Theresa and his application to work for Swiss Air.
- Sudden Musical Ending: "Ottery St Mary". The cast sings "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines".
- Sue Donym: "Kuala Lumpur" shows what an epically Bad Liar Arthur is. Asked to come up with a fake name on the spot, he fumbles, "Arth... nold... man. Err... cat... sir... man."
- Surrounded by Idiots: Usually either Douglas or, in cases when Douglas is intentionally being an idiot, Carolyn.Carolyn: Enough!! Everyone will wear their own clothes and sit in their own seats! Good God, I work in a kindergarten...
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Arthur, thanks to his bad lying skills, informs Martin he didn't see Mr. Leeman make him cry.
- Take Our Word for It: Frequently, since we only have the characters' reactions to judge anything by. This is often abused for Rule of Funny.
- The size and elaborateness of Martin's hat apparently has to be seen to be believed.
- Arthur demonstrates two different bows, and asks which of them is more suitable for greeting the King of Liechtenstein. The second one involves a significantly longer pause, is described as "a bit fancier", and apparently involves his hat falling off.
- Tall, Dark, and Snarky: First Officer Douglas Richardson. If the cast picture is canon, Roger Allam's Douglas is certainly dark-haired, and in dialogue he is described as much taller than Martin. And Douglas's snark is well-documented.
- The Teetotaler: Douglas, revealed at the end of series 1. A recovering alcoholic, he fakes it at social events to keep up his reputation. He likes apple juice - it looks like whisky.
- Technician Versus Performer: Martin compares his and Douglas' respective flying styles this way, lamenting that he doesn't have the innate feel for flying that others do... but that needing to make up for that weakness has forced him to devote every fibre of his being to improving his piloting skills in every other respect, leading to his ability steadily progressing. Although this is ultimately what leads to him getting hired by Swiss Airways; he does a terrible interview, but the CEO is so impressed by his methodical knowledge of the book and refusal to break the rules that he hires him on the spot.
- Tempting Fate: Pointed out by Martin ahead of time - if they give up waiting for their passenger in "Fitton", who hasn't contacted them in a month and is hours late for his appointed arrival, then he will inevitably turn up. Sure enough, once Carolyn and Martin have had too much to drink...
- This Is Gonna Suck: Martin and Douglas know they're in for trouble when Carolyn calls them "gentlemen" rather than "imbeciles" or their preferred insult, "dolts".
- Throw the Dog a Bone:
- At the end of "Ottery St. Mary", in which Arthur's stupidity has been repeatedly and particularly cruelly pointed out to him, it's revealed that he was right about giving a set of keys back to Douglas, thus making the majority of the episode's hijinks Douglas' fault.
- At the end of "Vaduz", Martin has scored a date with a real-life princess who happens to be a bit of an aviation geek.
- A couple of in-universe examples:
- At the end of "Limerick", Douglas actually lets Martin win one of their games. However, the alarm of Martin's "genuine" Patek Philippe kind of ruins the moment.
- After winning a whole series of bets to Martin (and then finding out that he doesn't have a salary) in "Gdansk", Douglas gives Martin a hint to a quiz, letting him finish ahead of Carolyn.
- Tongue on the Flagpole: Arthur gets his hands stuck on the hold doors in St. Petersburg, and when he's freed he tries to put his gloves back on and puts the keys he was holding in his mouth. This is a Chekhov's Gun for how they later teach a lesson to Arthur's dad.
- Triple Shifter: In "Wokingham", Martin adds looking after his sick mother to his already full schedule of piloting and moving furniture, and becomes so sleep-deprived that Carolyn refuses to let him fly.
- Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: From the climax of "Vaduz":Princess Theresa: I am Her Serene Highness Princess Theresa Gustava Bonaventura of Liechtenstein, Countess of Spondheim and Protector-Extraordinary of the Cantons of Nim. Who are you?
- The Unpronounceable: There is no such word in Carolyn's dictionary (and if there were, she'd make damn sure she knew how to pronounce it). Witness the pride she takes in being able to say "Szyszko-Bohusz" in 'Gdansk' and "Qikiqtarjuaq" in the episode of the same name.Douglas: Where is this Kicky-Tarry-Jack, anyway?
Carolyn: Are you referring to Qikiqtarjuaq?
Douglas: [long pause; frostily] ...You're really proud of yourself for learning how to say that, aren't you?
Carolyn: [smug] Yes!
- Verbal Backspace: From "Edinburgh":Arthur: The miniatures?
Carolyn: Do not tell me you left Douglas alone with all those miniatures of very expensive whisky!
Carolyn: Then why were you saying "the miniatures" like that?
Arthur: I wasn't! I was... singing.
Carolyn: What were you singing?
Arthur: "...The minute'cha walked through the door..."
- Waxing Lyrical: One of the first series' Cold Opens has Douglas and Martin making tannoy announcements bearing a suspicious similarity to "Fly Me To The Moon" and "Come Fly With Me".
- Vlog Series: Cabin Fever, which is essentially about Arthur in quarantine during the COVID-19 Pandemic, making web videos so he can stay in touch with his friends, and with anyone else who's in quarantine.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Understated (it's a comedy after all), but Martin harbors some angst over the fact that his father, who was frustrated with his son for "wasting" thousands of pounds re-taking failed aviation training and exams, died a scant four months before Martin qualified and got his first job as a pilot. He also keeps it a secret from his family that he's been using the van his father left him to run a side-business as a delivery man, only to discover that his father had left it to him for precisely that reason (to his older brother's considerable jealousy).
- Whammy Bid: In "Zurich", played first for drama, then for comedy.
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Uttered with heavy sarcasm by Douglas in "Ottery St Mary" regarding the plan for Martin (who's got a sprained ankle) and Arthur (who's Arthur) to deliver a piano by van. He thinks tagging along in "a managerial role" will help matters...
- What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: Douglas pokes fun at Martin for naming his removals company "Icarus", "after the first bad pilot in history".
- What Have I Become?: Douglas quotes this trope word for word as he, briefly, saw the world through Martin's eyes in 'Yverdon-les-Bains'.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: Arthur manages a mangled Australian and Irish accent. Martin also contributes with French and equally mangled Irish accent.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Fitton. Fan speculation based on the driving directions in 'Ottery St. Mary' concluded that it's somewhere between Coventry and Daventry, which was confirmed by Word of God.
- Whole Plot Reference: A very subtle one, but "Boston" has a man named Mr. Leeman inconveniently dying, and the protagonists try to recruit the help of a Dr. Pryce, which is basically the plot to the Fawlty Towers episode "The Kipper and the Corpse", right down to the names of incidental characters. Subverted when Pryce turns out to be Not That Kind of Doctor.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: As revealed in "Ottery St Mary", Herc is afraid of sheep. Carolyn is hugely amused.
- With Due Respect: When Martin insists that Douglas call him "sir" in "Abu Dhabi", he quickly comes to regret it.
- Would Hurt a Child: In 'Helsinki', Martin finally gives Bratty Half-Pint Kieran the "clip round the ear" more than one person had threatened him with. Forgetting, of course, that Kieran is an orange-belt in karate who's been itching for an excuse to use his skills in "self-defence".Ruth: I can't believe you would hit a defenceless child!
Martin: [groaning in a heap on the floor] He is not defenceless...
- Yank the Dog's Chain: At the end of "Johannesburg", Martin has solved all the problems, gotten a confidence boost and a pair of Cool Shades, and is about to take off on time and under budget...when his rushed walkaround results in a wine bottle breaking the airfield manager's BMW.