Life

Nuala McCann: Modern airports have all the allure of yesterday's cold chips

I know it'll be all right after I've gone through security, removed my shoes and my belt and stood, holding my breath in the enormous scanner that may or may not, ping at an underwired bra

Do you remember how flying away on your holidays used to be glamorous?

HOLIDAYS are looming. No really, it’s important... at last I’ve got something to say to my hairdresser.

This is a good thing surely. But modern airports have all the allure of yesterday’s cold chips. The airport used to be where the holiday began.

Even in the days when the only coffee in our house was Camp and I was 16 before I actually climbed up the steps into my first plane and threw up into my first official paper airline bag, even then, airports seemed exciting places.

I have warm fuzzy memories of travelling to Aldergrove in the early Troubles and the joys of watching small planes that buzzed like angry bees, land and take off.

OK, so the waiting area was a hut – huts were where it was at back then, but there was still a certain glamour in standing in the icy cold of an Antrim winter waiting to welcome a friend home for a Christmas holiday from his new life in Canada.

In my memory, Aldergrove was in black and white – it had a whiff of romance, a buzz of aeroplane propellers. It all felt like a scene from the film Casablanca.

The Sunday matinee was a big thing back then. It offered brief respite from too many dreary Sunday afternoons when there was nowhere to go because the shops were closed, the swings were locked up and the only way you were getting into the local pool was if you wanted a full immersion Christian baptismal dunk.

Watching Esther and the girls flip about in their synchronised swimming displays on the old television was where it was at. No wonder a trip to Aldergrove on a bleak winter afternoon seemed exciting.

The first flight I took was memorable beyond the sick bag. We got hot food in little tin trays, we were served by perfectly pansticked women in emerald green uniforms.

We handed in our bags and nobody raised an eyebrow, asked us to dump them on a scale or charged us a fortune for extra luggage. We had a seat, we did not have to pay more for that particular seat. We were treated like esteemed guests. It was glamorous.

Now everybody does the airline thing, the glamour has seeped away.

Now, my life is a series of lists – and navigating the airport and the security is at the top of them. Now it feels like a bloody great battle of the gladiators.

Sometimes the gate number doesn’t pop up on the screen until the last minute and then you have to gallop like a poor greyhound straight out of the trap just to get there on time.

Consider my mother... yes consider her, I told the girl at the airline check-in counter one day. She said she couldn’t tell ma precisely which gate the flight would depart from.

“Mum’s nearly 90. She can’t wait for the gate number to pop up and then make a run for it. Couldn’t you give her a fighting chance for heaven’s sake?” I asked.

Even in my health, the journey is no longer luxury. Think more cattle herded through a crossinng. Oh, for a nice hot towel to wipe my hands after the hot meal that was included in the price of the ticket.

Oh for the privilege of not digging into your wallet and lopping off an arm and a leg to pay for a floppy sandwich.

Can you tell that I’m having a holidays moment?

We’re nearing that time when the beautiful dream of a week in the sun is overshadowed by the thought of all we have to do to get there.

We’re buying bug spray, lugging suitcases from the attic, packing, getting foreign money, booking a car parking space, oh yes and navigating the airport.

At this stage, I’m usually the one who whimpers: “Can’t we just pull the curtains, lock the doors and pretend to have gone.”

And reader, I bloody mean it. My wanderlust has wandered... my zest for life is pressed... I’ve run out of petrol... I need an injection of joy.

I know it’ll be all right after I’ve gone through security, removed my shoes and my belt and stood, holding my breath in the enormous scanner that may or may not, ping at an underwired bra.

It’ll be all right after I’ve been through the weird pantomime of the plastic bag and the cosmetics.

I’ll be all right when I get there... sometimes it just feels like it’d be easier to be posted.

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