Cheap Twisters

I always fly Air Linger. But I will not fly with them so easily again.

How wonderful to fly home for Christmas. I so look forward to my complimentary whiskey, the in-flight mag and the bumpy descent, through the broken cloud and sunbeams, to Dublin-sur-mer.

I resist the low-cost airlines. That rush for ever-cheaper deals is humiliating, and the uncomplaining silence we adopt once we find one, as though receiving charity. Even passengers without feel humbled: if only I'd booked earlier! We all forget one thing: we're still the customer.

I always fly Air Linger. It's practical for me to get to, and competitive. Anyway, habits die hard. But I will not fly with them so easily again. This is why.

Let's start with the outward journey. Gone are the free whiskeys. It's the way today! Accountants! Soon, they'll have coin slots in the oxygen masks. "We're like Father Ryan now!" a steward bleated. The competition has won, the luxury has gone. We blindly believe this keeps our tickets cheap. Yet, my family was not flying cheap. Good customers, you might say.

Then I spill my whiskey, just as it is served. I won't blame the stewardess for our awkward tangle in that tight space. She smiled, came back with a cloth, and informed me that my non-free drink was non-replaceable. I had paid for it, but unlike in a normal pub, here, I was clearly not a normal customer.

Enter the return. January 1. Wind shook the house. Driving with my ma, we saw a heavy, deep blue, sheet of cloud approaching threateningly from the hills. No shape, just dark. Towards 1pm, we drove across the M11 bridge at Shanganagh. Just then the bruised wall of water exploded. The wind struck, scattering branches, a Merc veered, I slapped into first and headed, trawler-like, into the deluge.

Our sick child - should we leave later, we wondered? I called the airport. Our flight, they assured me, would be on time. I rang again later, to be sure. Still OK, they said. An hour later, at check-in, they announced a 20-minute delay. Fine. We sat relaxed at departure. The other Paris-bound jet backed out slowly. Time passed. We were asked to move to another Gate. There, the monitor sneered: a five-hour delay. The winds had caused havoc, our plane had been damaged, they said. A replacement was coming, from Denmark.

Why weren't we told this earlier? People had connections, family waiting. These draughty seats, an ill child, cheap meal vouchers and no courtesy room. We might have taken that French-bound other flight! Oh, but that was another company. The old "we'll get you on another flight" concept seemed no longer. An Australian couple politely demanded compensation. "Our contract is to get you to Paris!" we were told. This was betrayal, a myth exploding, a tradition dying. Times have changed, one staffer pronounced.

Hours later, we were off, a shiny plane, friendly Danes, and beer included. Probably the best flight in the world. Maersk-i beaucoup!

At home an e-mail was waiting from my brother. That wind in Dublin earlier on was in fact reported as a mini-tornado. It had knocked over power lines and vans, and blew a parked plane into another, damaging both. One of these was evidently our plane.

Did I feel guilty? No. In complaining, we had played out our roles as irate passenger-customers; they, today's no-frills professionals. A tradition had been blown away. I felt enlightened and looked forward to my next trip. Via Beauvais.

©RJ Doyle

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