SOME childhood memories are recalled through rose-tinted glasses: the summers were always hot, Christmas was always magical, and even those who subscribe to the quote by French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, ‘I loathe my childhood and all that remains of it’, would be inclined to agree that flying before the budget airline era, which for many people was during their youth, was once a glamorous and exciting affair.
When I set off on my first solo flight at eight years old it was a thrilling experience, elevated even more so by my daydreams around the adventures of Amelia Earhart.
Despite my imaginings, my own adventure did not involve piloting a small aircraft, but instead I boarded a Boeing 747, and was delivered into the custody of the kind air hostess who was to look after me during the flight from Dublin to London.
Without the slightest pang of homesickness, I was looking forward to spending a few weeks visiting my aunt, sampling the slightly different culture, and the sweets, in the land across the Irish Sea.
No need to request an upgrade, myself and my other young solo flying companions had the best seats on the plane. We were brought into the cockpit to be introduced to the pilot, and were offered a variety of treats, including free lollipops to prevent the popping in our ears. Upon arrival our little hands were not relinquished by the air hostess until we were safely dispatched to our waiting relatives.
Fast forward to 2022, and the thought of flying had me filled with existential angst.
Like so many others on this island, I have several family members living abroad, including my sister who lives in the States. As she was unable to travel over for a visit, I opted to go and see her, and was looking forward to a post-pandemic reunion.
The prospect of taking a flight, which in former times was an exciting one, had morphed into a cocktail of worry made up of several ingredients. Getting infected by the dreaded plague whilst on board was infused with a sense of guilt for flying and wrecking havoc upon the environment, and as if that wasn’t enough to grapple with, it was served up with a twist of tedium which was the prospect of negotiating airport security.
I googled trans Atlantic cruises, and contemplated Greta Thunberg’s Atlantic voyage in a small vessel, wondering if I could obtain one myself, but all of this was overshadowed by visions of the Titanic and icebergs. Having run out of options, I opted for the flight.
My son and I spent a lovely time with my sister in Philadelphia, and set off on the journey home via Newark New Jersey.
“We’re not in a war zone, Mam,” remarked my son at my dismay on being told that our return flight was overbooked, and there was a strong possibility we could not board. Those with a flexible ticket had options, but we did not have a flexible ticket.
My son was so right of course, and I thought about the thousands of refugees fleeing from war zones and climate catastrophe, and here we were with our first world moans about a flight deferred.
“Donie O’Sullivan is a great lad, flying the flag for Kerry, his parents must be really proud of him,” said 84-year-old Peggy, who I got chatting to in the queue.
Living in New Jersey since she was 20, she was raring to get back home post-lockdown to visit her relatives in Cork, which she had regularly enjoyed doing every couple of years, and now was thrilled at being able to do so again if the flight ever took off.
Her travelling companions were her son and grandson, and they were also Donie O’Sullivan fans.
“Did you see him at the Capitol wth all the crazies stormin’ the place? He’s one helluva plucky Irish guy,” remarked her son.
Meanwhile the call came over the tannoy.
“Any passengers with a flexible ticket, could they come forward please. We are offering $1,000 to transit through Heathrow until the next flight to Ireland becomes available.”
“ I don’t know how I will afford to hire a car in Ireland,” remarked Peggy’s son, “They are charging around a hundred euros a day - it’s crazy. I need a car to get Mom around. She has relatives in Tipperary and Mayo that she needs to visit.”
“$1,500, and a hotel until the next available flight to Heathrow,” came the call over the tannoy by the increasingly agitated airline agent in an attempt to offload some of the overbooked passengers. Nobody wanted to be diverted to the chaos of Heathrow, even at that price. We waited and chatted.
“ I’m going to have my first pint in Ireland,” announced Peggy’s 18-year-old grandson, delighted that this rite of passage would be attained on Irish soil, bypassing the legal age of 21 before he could touch a drop in the USA.
Peggy was making ‘tut tut’ sounds.
“I’ll be with him Mom, he’ll be fine with me,” said the boy’s father.
“Don’t be encouraging him to drink,” cautioned Peggy.
“ $2,000,” came the call from the airline agent, whereupon there was a rush to the desk.
Peggy and her family made the flight, and no doubt her grandson had supped his first Guinness and maybe a few more in the days which followed - while back in Philly we waited for our luggage.
It arrived a full week later, just in time for our departure.