What is this nonsense about Ryanair possibly going to buy Aer Lingus? Ryanair – that cheeky upstart of an airline, which I accept was almost entirely responsible for making flying affordable for us Irish, stranded as we are on this rocky, green, damp island on the western edge of Europe. But take over Aer Lingus... that august and proud airline, that erstwhile symbol of national pride, I bloody well hope not!
I am resisting the temptation to rant on about why I really hate flying Ryanair. I will not describe the nervous heap they reduce me to while I stand for hours in a queue at a gate which manages to be on the far side of the airfield from the terminal, wearing too many clothes so that my hand luggage weighs less that my handbag normally does. I will refrain from pouring scorn on the sweaty leather seats and the garish blue and yellow interior of their aircraft. But the blaring of a fanfare when we arrive on time is a step too far and really is an appalling way to treat customers.
Oh no, give me Aer Lingus any day. I think Aer Lingus like me and are happy to have me onboard. Ryanair seem to be out to get me and they definitely don’t like me much, a fact that could be due to the perspiration on my forehead I guess.
Aer Lingus and I have a long shared history. In the 1960’s my father worked in Customs and Excise (as it was called then) and occasionally on weekends I accompanied him to Dublin Airport at Collinstown. The original terminal building with its feminine curving lines was as beautiful inside as out. I can still see its large, airy and bright main hall dominated, if my memory serves me correctly, by a huge wall clock. The airport was a portal to exotic and wondrous foreign shores and adventure. The tingle of anticipation was heightened by the whiff of jet fuel from the nearby apron. To a little girl Dublin Airport was somewhere very special indeed.
In 1971, I was nine years old when Aer Lingus took delivery of its first 747 Jumbo Jet. I remember standing in our back garden in Blackrock watching as this huge aircraft passed overhead. This kind of flypast became a bit of a habit for Aer Lingus 747s; they did it again in 1979, a low pass over the city of the Papal flight, although this time the Jumbo Jet was flanked on each wing by two Air Corps aircraft. Being a cool teenager I took great delight in having no interest whatsoever in the Pope’s visit. However I did feel a certain pride when I realised that his arrival on our national carrier was the first time a Pope had ever travelled on an airline other than Alitalia.
As a child of the 70s, Aer Lingus was one of the very first things that made me proud to be Irish. This little country, which was seriously lacking in pizzazz or excitement, had an airline which was deemed to be as good as any on the planet, at a time when air travel was the ultimate in glamorous living. Sure hadn’t it got an office on 5th Ave in New York to prove it? Aer Lingus symbolised an Ireland that was beginning to believe in itself.
Perhaps it was in part my early exposure to the charms of both the Airport and the airline that led me to a job in the travel business. I joined the JWT set and in the early 80s spent one winter working as a Holiday Rep in Gran Canaria. At that time the bulk of the Irish holidaymakers arrived on the island on a chartered Aer Lingus 747, which delivered to us a staggering 470 passengers. This caused some logistical problems on the ground as it meant that all Irish holiday companies had arrivals and departures on the same day and at the same time. As Reps we had to book our coaches well in advance or our clients would be left making the transfer in some old bone shaker of a rickety vehicle which normally functioned as a school bus.
During the ‘90s my love life was complicated. My boyfriend lived in London and so we spent every second weekend commuting back and forwards across the Irish Sea – always with Aer Lingus. There were more than a few occasions when I arrived a bit ahead of schedule at Gatwick and used to ask at check-in if I might change to the earlier flight. Invariably the nice Aer Lingus people would tell me to go ahead to the gate with my bag and if they could, they certainly would put me on the first flight available. It usually worked and no one ever had the audacity to ask me for payment.
My experiences with Aer Lingus have always been positive. My travel memories are interspersed with those hours of waiting at various airports for my flight back to Dublin. Tired, tanned and tetchy at the end of a holiday, that first sight of the familiar green and blue livery descending from the sky was always a surprising source of national pride. I am not ashamed to admit that I still feel that way today. And does anyone else fondly remember the aroma of Irish Breakfast that used to waft through the cabin on an early morning flight home.... sure we were home before we ever left the ground!
I admit I seem to have a slightly irrational and very emotional attachment to our national carrier... but I doubt that I am alone. Aer Lingus is our airline. And it is still one of the safest and best airlines in the world. So who’s going to tell the Troika we ain’t selling it?