Sunday, November 22, 2020

One day soon we’ll be able to catch a flight again



By Michael Godfrey

I HAVE fond memories of being brought to Dublin Airport as a child. The occasions for such trips (yes, there were a few) elude me, but I can vividly recall going up onto the roof of the building, putting a penny into a machine that looked like an enormous pair of binoculars and being entranced by the close-up images of the aeroplanes on the ground.

Note: I said aeroplanes on the ground because, in those days, landings were few and far between. That was an extra thrill, and if you managed to capture the moment with those big binoculars, you were especially lucky.

I can also remember going to the airport to ‘collect’ my dad after he returned from a business trip to Dusseldorf and wanting to know every detail of both his trip in the air and what it was like in a different country. For many years afterwards, there was a miniature of Cologne Cathedral in the house to remind both my late father and me of that trip – which was a printing fair he had attended while working for The Nationalist.

I didn’t get to experience my first trip in the sky until 1978, when two of the three friends I had gone to Tramore with the previous year asked me to join them for week in London. It was the end of the summer holidays, work had been kind and all of us had money in our pockets … what better way to spend it. The airfare to Heathrow was £110, which was more than a week’s wages at the time, but it would be well worth it.

And it was. The seven days we spent in the city were fantastic, even if I did my usual and emptied my pockets of all available spare cash upon two days of arriving.

This time, I had a good excuse, and unlike my experience with the roulette table the previous year, I went shopping. You must remember that mobile phones were confined to Star Trek and internet banking was unheard of. In fact, the internet didn’t even exist. But never one to miss an opportunity, I met a man in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying. He was calling his wife back in Dublin that night, so I gave him my parents’ phone number and asked if they could put money into my bank account.

It all sounds harmless, but my mother, God rest her soul, immediately thought the worst. Who was this strange woman calling and why did her son need money transferred into his bank account? It made for a good after-dinner story later but, trust me, my mother didn’t see the humour in it.

The next time I took a flight was the following year, when I and another friend thought it would be a good idea to take time off from the newspaper we were working in (not this one) and head off to cover the Kampuchean war in Asia. Again, there were some very ‘interesting’ moments on that trip, but they are for another day. The flight to Bangkok via Amsterdam and returning through Brussels cost £1,100, an absolute fortune, considering I was earning less than £6,000 for the entire year.

All that was before Ryanair, which still had to roll out its basement price structure and change our way of thinking when it came to flying. No-frills airlines stick to a strict set of rules regarding our luggage and they got us wherever we wanted to go – or near there, anyway – without charging a fortune for the privilege.

But as with any good deal, we wanted more and over the years some of the frills were added on, such as reserved seating, even if it was at a cost. Then along comes Covid-19 and all of a sudden millions of flights had to be cancelled and we were all left clamouring for our money back – and as we have all become very impatient over the intervening years, we wanted that money now. An impossibility.

In August, I applied for a September flight I was unable to take, and even though I received confirmation that my application had been received, I heard nothing again from the airline. On repeated occasions I tried unsuccessfully to speak to someone in customer service, but a voice message kept referring me back to its website.

I had given up on getting a refund until last weekend, when I checked my emails to discover one from Ryanair advising that the entire amount had been returned to my bank account. Not bad for a company which has lost over €200 million so far this year.

By all accounts, the vaccines for Covid-19 should bring this pandemic under control and life will return to some sort of normality soon. Hopefully, that will mean foreign travel once again and hopefully Ryanair will still be around to ensure the likes of me, who hates paying premium prices just to sit on a seat for hours on end, will fly with them again.

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