Wednesday 9 February 2011

Which bailout is this? Ryanair or the IMF?

My family is notoriously punctual. When flying, we arrive ten minutes before the check-in desks are even open. After a succession of accusations that I was either anal, OCD or both, I  moved to the west of Ireland and instantly felt much better about myself. 

The Irish approach each flight as if it is their very first. Last week I walked into Lanzarote airport three hours before departure. Far across the vast sweeping tundra of empty shiny airport floor, I made out a herd of human folk, circling together like albino buffalo in the distance. I knew they were Irish people with the same certainty that I knew those would be my check-in desks.

My friend had left the day before, abandoning me to watch endless hours of rolling tv news. That was my excuse for arriving three hours early. What was theirs? 

Wandering nearer, my suspicions were confirmed. Red-faced men and women with grey curly and dyed blonde hair respectively; 50 to 60 year-old Dubs who’d been havin’ a rare auld time singing the ballads in the Irish bars and soaking up the beer in the sun.
Not a single tan amongst them. Plenty of evidence of the effect of sun on skin, none of it pretty.

Veering off, I grabbed a seat, because even I cannot see the point of standing in a line for an hour before the desks are open. Their mass early attendance came as no surprise. For many years, Knock was my local airport, where I’d see excited Co. Mayo farmers crushing themselves in a queue to board a plane that wasn’t even there yet. 

So no, I sat down, proud that I could draw a border on my neurotic behaviour. Yet sadly and secretly I was keeping half an eye on the length of the queue. It’s just that, well, there’s plenty of time, but only one plane, and if I wanted to get that Emergency Exit row with the extra leg room...

Inevitably I joined the back of the ever-growing line, only to find the usually effervescent Irish indignant and aggressive. A sign put up on the check-in desk declared that although our Aer Lingus flight was still running, due to a staff dispute it was to be operated by a Ryanair crew flying a Ryanair plane.

They might not have tans, but this shortish, lively, laughy and lardy bunch of Dubs are seasoned travellers. ‘Swallows’ is the term they use in the Canary Islands: those who fly south to escape the cold winter months. There’s a reason we all booked with Aer Lingus. Fear that Ryanair baggage restrictions might be applied swept like bushfire up the queues.

5’2” in all directions, she stood splendid with her hands on her hips, her head rolled back while her eyes picked out all of ours, delivering her speech with the assurance of Caesar in the Senate.

“Righ’ so, if dey say iss fiftee’ kilograms, we tell ‘em to forrrck orrrrrrrff, righ? All of oss is in diss togethe’, righ-?”

Everyone cheered in assent, but excess baggage is a costly business, so before you could say ‘What did we all just agree to here?’ everyone proceeded to haul their bags over to the desks to weigh them,

All of a sudden this Ryanair bailout of the ex-national carrier, this microcosm of Ireland, was in chaos. Knickers and books and towels and shoes were stuffed into hand luggage and as they emptied their bags and exposed their dirty laundry in public, everyone was saying that it wasn’t necessary, that it was still an Aer Lingus flight, so there was no way they’d dare to change the baggage allowance, but just to be on the safe side, d’ya know? 

I love the Irish, but they tend to complain a lot about wanting to help themselves and then instead do what they are told. 

The flight’s ID code had remained Aer Lingus ‘ei’ rather than Ryanair ‘fr’, but that’s where ownership ended. Aer Lingus had no more influence over this flight than any new Irish government will have in running post-bailout Ireland.

Ireland’s next elected leader will be in charge of the national cockpit, in the same way that I only imagined being crammed into a Ryanair yellow and blue plastic plane. According to its ID, it was an Aer Lingus flight, all soft and green and roomy.

The desks next to us opened, and at precisely two hours before the departure of a Norwegian Airlines flight to Bergen, the Scandinavians all arrived. They too are aged between 50 and 60, but they could not look more different. Perfectly and deeply tanned, the gentle smiles on their unlined faces exposing Hollywood teeth. 

They were simply beautiful. I wanted to be one of them. Looking from the two rows of Irish (and my ‘orrible self), all flabby and sweaty and burned and ragged to these fine specimens felt like some dreadful ‘Before’ and ‘After’ of humanity.

But from our tatty herd there rose a constant rambling chatter and frequent laughter, and even in the face of adversity (or, to be honest, where the Irish are concerned, sometimes because of it) there was a sense of community. Feeling hard-done-by and made to suffer, the Irish are insistently exuberant. Those Norwegians will live a lot longer, but it might just feel longer.

However, I’ll bet that when those Bergen passengers were allocated their seat numbers at check-in, they corresponded fairly accurately to the seats on their Norwegian Airlines plane. 
We too were awarded seat numbers, which made us feel a little more like we might really still be flying with Aer Lingus. 

I was in 22A, by the window, but no,’twas not to be. The tragic parallels between this Ryanair bailout of Aer Lingus and the IMF’s bailout of Ireland continue. Just when it might have started to sort of make some sense in a small way, the whole process was thrown once more into meaningless disorder. 

As we boarded the plane a Spanish Ryanair employee with an incomprehensible accent repeated constantly over the tannoy: “Lez and Ginman pliz for yoy sefteeee take hannee havillible seat. There his no sitting hallowcation. Pliz lez and genman quickly and seffleeee take henny seat, henny seat you want, pliz. Henny seat henny seat, take henny seat pliz.”


Ciaran said...

Hope you had a nice seat in Massimo's last Sunday. Ha, ha!

Charlie Adley said...

Actually I watched it in Monroes. Nightmare. Hear you made a fortune. Sorry you've finished writing your blog- I'll miss it.

Ciaran said...

Meirles at 14-1 and Pool to win at 5-1, no Monday blues in my house last week! Thanks re my blog. It has run its course.

johnbendel said...

Great to read your writing again. Sorry to have left you to the mercies of Irish air travel but worth it just to read your blog. Keep writing, we all deserve to read you.

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks JB - kind words much appreciated - and the trip was great! Did you ever see the final Tony's?