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Independent.ie

Saturday 16 December 2017

Low-cost airlines are getting a rough ride

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Everyone loves complaining about Ryanair despite the fact that their low-cost business model has made air travel possible for all of us. Thirty years ago, flying was the preserve of the wealthy and Aer Lingus seemed determined to keep it that way. Chartered holiday flights did somewhat improve matters but it took Ryanair to make flying genuinely affordable.

During the years when Aer Lingus ruled the roost, determined travellers with empty wallets took the cattle boats to England and to get further afield, cadged lifts in whatever way they could.

I well remember hitching rides on those awful horse transport aeroplanes as a temporary groom when you would stand, with your suitcase beside you, in a noisy airborne tin can, trying to soothe a terrified horse as the din of the plane's engines drummed deafeningly in your ears. We did it because we couldn't afford anything else.

Taking a passenger flight was beyond our means and, as a result, most of us made do with reading about far-off destinations or dreaming of strolling down the sea front in some exotic spot such as St Tropez where bikini-clad beauties might be found in hordes, waiting for young and handsome Irishmen to brighten their bored lives.

The era before Ryanair was a time of privation and slow living and their arrival broke through the gloom of the almost permanent recession that then gripped Ireland. Cheap flights gave us the freedom to at least get away, if only for a few weeks, visit new countries and see how the other half lived.

The position that Aer Lingus previously enjoyed was typical of all semi-state monopolies in that they didn't need to do anything for their customers like trying to be more efficient or reducing fares. There was no alternative, so they could do what they liked. The trade unions dictated both wages and staffing levels and were determined to ensure that things remained that way.

Our politicians were, as usual, spineless and afraid to take on the vested interests so as to provide some healthy competition. Does anyone remember the endless baggage handlers' strikes? But then who in Aer Lingus didn't strike during the painful transition from being a bloated state monopoly to eventually becoming the cost-efficient airline it is today.

We also enjoy moaning about emigration and our opposition politicians are becoming positively boring as they drone on about how young people are being forced to flee Ireland's shores as if working abroad were something new and dangerous. They should consider the following. Up to the late 1900s many of the young who left to find work were poorly educated and were forced to take even poorer jobs in Britain and America.

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Nowadays, the majority of our young are highly educated and armed with multiple skills and knowledge. These skills provide them with the opportunity to prosper and accumulate further knowledge which, if they choose to return, they can share with the rest of us.

Look at all the young men and women who head off to work in places like New Zealand and Australia. Living and working among other races and cultures opens all our minds to the wider world and gives us the option of making a life abroad or eventually returning to the family farm or some other career at home.

Those who complain about Ryanair forget that cheap flights have enabled all of us to travel the globe. Their low-cost model, and that of Southwest Airline in the US, changed air travel forever and drove down prices worldwide.

The monopoly that Aer Lingus formerly enjoyed was just another part of the restrictive society we then lived in and the lengthy queues at Dublin Airport are just further proof of the affordability of flying today.

While writing this I was trying to work out the cost, allowing for inflation, of a return flight to Heathrow relative to what I paid in the early 1970s. On comparing it with wages then and now, I think I paid the equivalent in today's money of approximately €1,500. I then checked prices and found a quote for a one-way flight to Heathrow of less than €20 including taxes. For that I can put up with no refund and some queuing.

Indo Farming