Belfast Telegraph

Why my time as high-flier is well and truly grounded

By Robert McNeil

I used to like flying. Aeroplanes still fill me with wonder. How do they get off the ground? I've read about the procedure but, as someone whose science exams recorded nul points, my brain remains fogged.

But I no longer like flying. Allow me to clarify: it's not the actual flying, being up above the clouds and whatnot. Marvellous, particularly after a couple of G&Ts, when one might imagine one has died and gone to heaven; assuming the only food in heaven is little bags of pretzels.

It's the palaver that surrounds flying that gets me down, as it were.

First, the prices. On any given route they seem to vary between £5 and £500. But for the cheap ones, you've to put your name down a week after you're born.

Accounts from other people (always mysteriously more fortunate than oneself) leave one baffled: “Yes, we took the entire family of seven to Magaluf with Brianair. Never cost us a penny. And they gave us 500 quid spending money. Still, I hear you can get better deals if you look hard enough on the internet.”

Well I look, and always end up paying hundreds. As usual, there must be a knack. And my knack must be knackered.

Then there are airports, places of fear and loathing. The veneer of civilisation here is anorexic. It's not just that some citizens are scared of flying. Some are scared of terrorists.

Folk worry over luggage and get the nagging feeling that they're sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At larger airports, this is the only time you come into proximity with these serious suits who run the country: ruthless-looking bods from Big Business. Most unpleasant.

Unless you're in first-class you get treated like ordure now. Stewards used to be kind. They gave you loads of food. Now you get only suspicious looks and, if you're lucky, the aforementioned pretzels.

I remember one Christmas flight when we passengers were like chicks in a nest, with our beaks wide open as stewards bunged endless supplies of food and drink down our gullets. A most enjoyable flight. Relatives were waiting for me and, in retrospect, I can feel their embarrassment as I staggered across the tarmac singing Powder Your Nose With Sunshine.

Today, you daren't look at a steward or stewardess in case they take offence, and the smell of drink on your breath could lead to a flotilla of police vehicles waiting for you on arrival.

Mind you, it works both ways. This week, a flight attendant in Americashire told his employers to take a flying one, announcing his resignation over the plane's tannoy, complete with a “f*** you” to the passenger who'd insulted him. Grabbing a beer from the galley, he deployed the plane's emergency slide and made a spectacular exit. As someone unwilling to take any more, he's now a hero on that internet.

Few of us can take any more. New, people-friendly procedures need to be drawn up for flying. No-one wants to get on a plane with drunks or nutters carrying ordnance in their shoes.

But there must be a balance between security and comfort, and a re-skewing of the attitude that currently treats passengers as The Enemy.

Until that day, as a lover of flying, I'll be keeping my feet firmly on the ground.

Belfast Telegraph

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