COLM TOBIN: Airports are flying from crisis to crisis – on a wing and a prayer

June 27th, 2022 11:00 AM

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OH, airports ... with your confusing new baggage systems, your overpriced coffee, your last-minute gate changes and those tatty toys you guilt me into buying for my children whenever I’m travelling for work … How I haven’t missed you!

Yes, I was back in an airport last week for the first time since March 2020, and I’m shocked that it’s been this long. I know we’ve had a global pandemic but that seems like years ago now given all the various crises that have cropped up since. The cost of living crisis, the ever-worsening housing crisis, the crisis in Cork hurling …

I actually had to scroll back through my Google Calendar to confirm that it really was 2020 when I last flew. Indeed, it was Friday March 13th in 2020, a day or so after Leo Varadkar had announced the schools were about to close in Ireland. On that day I boarded a flight from London City airport to Dublin, wiping every single surface along the way, before collapsing in the front door of my house late that evening, like Indiana Jones escaping from under a falling rock. I will never forget the stress of that journey, the quiet relief of seeing the lights of Dublin emerge in the window of the cabin from above, and the feeling of dread about what was making its way towards us from Italy. For all I knew, it was already on the plane. 

Despite all the bad PR in recent times, Dublin airport was actually a breeze last weekend, all you Cork people will be most disappointed to hear. It may have helped that they had daily mass blaring over the TV in the departure lounge, for some strange reason. Perhaps the relative calm was down to some divine presence near Gate 17?

Still, it wasn’t long before the general hassle of air travel was getting me completely stressed out, the inefficiencies of the whole thing enough to give Michael O’Leary a conniption. There was a time, back in the pre-Covid era, when I had it all down to a tee. I’d rock up to security, with a minimally packed bag an hour before the flight and cruise on at my leisure.

But this time I found myself in a constant state of ‘I’ve definitely forgotten something’ at every stage of the journey, from the minute I pulled the door shut in the taxi to the minute I strapped myself into the seat on the plane. I was repeatedly stopping to pat down my pockets and nervously mutter the mantra ‘phone / wallet / passport/sucky sweets’.

Of course, complaining in any way at all about travel these days is a risky business, as RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher Hayes found out to his detriment on Twitter the other week.

The social media network was caught up in one of its hourly waves of hysteria, this time over queues in Dublin airport, when the journalist tweeted:

‘ … Another way to think about delays at airports. We are in a climate emergency, since a vote of the Dáil in 2019. If you’re on an international flight, you are in the 4 per cent of the global population that will ever do that in their entire lives. Check your privilege.’

The righteous and the angry descended on him with great fury – but the man has a point.

My own trip was for work, and I have at least another four work-related flights booked for the coming months. That’s not including the family holiday we’ve got booked in July.

Most of these trips would hardly pass the Teresa Mannion definition of a ‘necessary journey’ but I do have a business to run that relies on international partners. And I want my kids to see Italy after two-and-a-half years confined to the island.

So I worry about how all this will look in 10 years’ time.

All I know for now is that we are indeed immensely privileged and it’s good to check in with that once in a while, especially when we experience the ‘hassle’ of air travel or many of the other modern stressors we love to give out about on the internet. In many ways, we are so immensely privileged.

Time for best feet forward

IN my over 20 years living in the capital, the very idea of swimming in the sea has been so off-putting, so completely inconceivable, that I didn’t even countenance it.   

The Irish Sea is too suspiciously flat for one thing. It’s too close to Sellafield for another. And I’ve seen the state of Dublin’s streets on a Saturday morning. I don’t want to be swimming anywhere near where all that happens.

But this past while, I have started to literally dip my toes in the water for the first time. While it’s no Red Strand and you can’t really compare it to the beach life I grew up with in West Cork in the ’80s, it is still quite a lovely experience paddling in the water with the ferries floating into Dublin Port yonder and the Poolbeg chimneys tall and elegant against the Dublin Mountains. I wear a wetsuit top, and keep my mouth closed at all times, obviously. I’m not a maniac.

Pass the ‘House’ wine

I WAS reading during the week that the Houses of the Oireachtas plan to splash out up to €300,000 on their own brand of wine. They are looking for a light- or medium-bodied wine for its entry-level red and a ‘young, clean, fresh, fruity’ style of white wine to which it will attach its own label. With the country in the midst of a painful cost-of-living crisis, you’d have to ask the rhetorical question – what are they on?

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