Monday, 21 April 2008

Just when I thought there was no hope, there came the Angel of Aer Lingus!

People persist in going
“Ohhh, hoo, hark at Mister Jetty Setty!”
if you dare to say out loud that you are so fed up with flying.
For some bizarre reason, even those who fly often keep cosseted in their brains a dream of perfect Pan Am Catch Me If You Can flying, wherein the whole process is quite heavenly.
That process is now big business, of which the fights themselves are the product, and we merely fill the seats.
Taking short haul flights in sudden and perfunctory fashion with the likes of Ryanair and Easy jet is as glamourous as feeling a bit vodka-and-white-wine queasy after a nightclub in the back on a minicab with a snogging couple who have forgotten you’re there.
Thankfully, we in Galway have Aer Arran, who are not cheap, but somewhere between the arcane whirr of their propellors, the slightly Alice in Wonderland mirage of their planes appearing just the tiniest tad too small, and the patient and pragmatic smiles of the cabin crew, the spirit of the West is wholly and rather wonderfully represented.
Indeed, Aer Arran do make some effort to nurture that ethereal and nonsensical notion of flying being fantastic darling.
They allocate seat numbers, which always helps make you feel more of a human being and less like a sheep at the boarding gate. They give you a newspaper, which, again alongside the West of Ireland, allows you to believe that you have won something just by being there.
Ryanair do exactly the opposite, but before Michael O'Leary gets all uppity, I’ll admit that they do exactly what they say on the tin.
They fly to from A to B on time.
Yes Michael, but I hate being one of your customers.
From your website onwards, we undergo a trying test of skill and stamina.
No I don’t want to buy your insurance. Yes I do have to pay to check in a bag. No there isn’t anywhere on my hard plastic seat to put a magazine or a bottle of water.
To some extent, I understand where Michael O’Leary is coming from. We are grown-ups, well able to buy newspapers and decide which airlines we want.
Yes, I’ll fly on your planes, Michael, but don’t take the piss.
The last time I flew Ryanair, from Knock to Luton, we were actually airborne only a mere and wonderfully short 55 minutes, yet also we were:
approached by a strained steward with trolley, offering ‘gourmet hot drinks’;
then bombarded by an announcement that there were also on board ‘gourmet hot snacks’,
approached by a stoically smiling steward with another trolley of food to buy; then bombarded by an announcement asking if we wanted to be millionaires, and why didn’t we buy a Ryanair scratchcard;
then bombarded by an announcement trying to sell coach tickets from Luton to London, followed by suffering cabin crew zooming along muttering a mantra of ‘coach tickets coach tickets’ at comically high speed, so they could be ready to do the same with the Duty Free that was already being announced and sold on a trolley up the aisle, while himself was preparing to announce the Gift Shopping, on special today (with an air of Shakespearian doom) essence of David Beckham and scent of Jade Goody;
then bombarded by an announcement trying to sell train tickets from Luton to London, followed by suffering cabin crew zooming along muttering a mantra of ‘train tickets train tickets’ at comically high speed, so they could be ready to put up everyone’s trays, get their seats in the upright position, ten minutes ‘til landing.
Michael, I’ll be your sheep, so herd me if you must, and I’ll even suffer your cheese grater pricing tactics that cut holes all over my wallet in a hundred different ways, but do us all a favour, eh?
Give your staff a break. Allow your customers to draw breath between attempts to score their hard-earned wads.
That flight was so short, there wasn’t even time for those ill-considered 2-for-1 Gin, Whisky and Vodka pouches you usually try to flog to your flying sheep.
People spend more when they’re pissed, do they, Michael?
Proud of those 2-for-1 alcoholic pouches are you?
Away from all these horrors, there exists the act of kindness from the professional who happens to love and be good at their job.
Long haul flights are as different to short haul as riding a bike is to driving a truck.
Well, ideally, but on a recent Aer Lingus flight from San Francisco to Dublin, nothing was going right.
The seat back screens that provide all the in-flight entertainment refused to work. For me, a minor inconvenience, but were I with three kids aged 5, 9 and 12, I might find it difficult to explain
But I wonder, would I let them play instead with my computer, screaming shouting yelling, keeping the whole plane awake for the entire 10 hour flight?
Then I was asked to put away a packet of cashew nuts, because there was a passenger on board who had a nut allergy, and were the subtlest whiff of my nuts - oh please, behave yourselves - to get into the air conditioning system, she’d go purple nasty,
I’d barely had time to consider this, when that old long haul chestnut, the medical emergency, (“Is there a medical doctor on board?”), came along. Poor old geezer two rows back thinks he’s having a stroke, and you feel terrible for being such a selfish bastard to be hoping he recovers and doesn’t die or get worse, because you really do not want to have to land at Cackahooppeee in the Andalusian Mountains to get him to a hospital, and on and on, this flight from hell goes on and on, into this darkest night.
Save for herself, the Angel of Aer Lingus!
Proving me wrong, and giving hope to the cynics of the world, she replaced my nuts with a tube of Pringles. Then, having apparently seen me grimace at the wine I’d bought, she appeared with a swish from behind the curtain to the Slightly Better People Than You Little People section, bringing me another glass of red.
“That might be a little better, Sir,” she smiles.
“ Mmmmm, dapppsh luvbberrrly!” dribble I, as she swishes and clips her way to make other people smile.

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