In general, I like to travel but have been back and forth to London so often over the past couple of months that I've seen more of airports and aircraft than I care to in that time. I always choose Aer Lingus over Ryanair, despite the fact that the grand old lady of Irish aviation is a little down on her luck of late.
She does her best but there's always that air of quiet desperation about her that translates into hiccoughs on boarding, not- irregular flight delays and the strained-smile of understaffed service. But give me her inefficiencies any day when compared with the competing service of the obnoxious upstart.
I was reminded of this forcibly on Friday when I boarded the plane just ahead of an elderly man on crutches. Two of the Aer Lingus crew abandoned their welcoming post (or security detail, depending on your point of view) to help the man to his seat, settle him in and stow his sticks safely away. Then, despite the fact that the plane was still boarding with arriving passengers, one of the stewards offered to make the man a cup of tea.
I almost lost it. She might have left her best years behind her, but the old girl had it in her yet. I found myself strangely moved by the simple courtesy. No doubt airline procedures had tea-making much further down the line of priorities (and just before perfume-hawking) but the crew-member recognised this man's need for a cup of tea and acted on it.
A line I heard years ago from Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin sprang to mind: "It's not in the nature of the soul to abandon its home." I'm not sure quite what that line means, even in this sense, but I thought there something essential about the steward's gesture that harked back to another time, when Aer Lingus was the soul of Irish aviation and travel and my twentysomething-year-old self thrilled to the sight of the uniform as I made my way home from far off places.
Old-fashioned courtesy had not abandoned its home. I was completely won over by the simple offer ('cabin-crew: disarm cynical passengers and make ready for flight').
Mind you, I was brought back down to earth with more than the bump of undercarriage on tarmac when my return flight was delayed four hours with little explanation. But still, something of the sweetness of the gesture remained.