Pól Ó Conghaile: Aer Lingus is a feeling, but here's something it should never forget
The former national airline is flying high, but passengers provide much of the power behind its brand
If I say the words 'Aer Lingus', what comes to mind?
Irishness? Shamrock? A foot on home soil?
How about high prices, or a ham-fisted Aer Club rollout?
The answer depends on your experience, of course - but it goes to show that brands are not what marketers say they are. They're what we say they are.
I'm writing this column on an Aer Lingus flight from London. I've just gotten a hot water (and some sympathy) to go with a Lemsip, and a man in a middle seat has been invited to move to an empty row.
Another little layer has been added to my sense of the airline. Whereas Ryanair feels functional to me, Aer Lingus is by now almost a feeling in itself.
It's hard to believe that, three years ago, we were fretting about the national airline's takeover by IAG. Now, its expansion seems unstoppable.
A new 'brand identity' is on the way, with uniforms designed by Louise Kennedy. Seán Doyle will replace Stephen Kavanagh as CEO in January, and an assembly line of new routes includes Montreal and Minneapolis-St Paul.
By 2023, 14 new A321LR 'neo' aircraft will be delivered - a new generation of single-aisle, transatlantic planes with both economy and business class.
There have been hiccups, however.
Smartly, Aer Lingus tends to follow rather than lead when it comes to unpopular extra charges, but there's no doubt about the bottom line. A 20kg checked bag will cost you €110 on a return flight to the Canary Islands.
Aer Lingus's ambition is to be "the leading value carrier across the North Atlantic."
Clearly, that's not about price - as anyone who has bagged a bargain fare with WOW or Norwegian will know. It's about customers getting the service they pay for, and a little more besides - the sympathetic smile with my Lemsip, a sneak peek into the cockpit, or the soothing of an anxious passenger's nerves.
And in return, our word-of-mouth keeps its reputation flying.
That's not something Aer Lingus should take for granted; 2019 could be its biggest ever year, but aviation is a fickle business (just ask Air Berlin, Primera, Cobalt or Monarch). Fuel prices are rising. The economy won't hum forever.
If it starts to feel like a faceless corporation, or a shake-down for fees, the Aer Lingus brand will hit some serious turbulence.
It may no longer be "our airline". But we remain its secret ingredient - and that gives passengers some power.
Read more:Aer Lingus is hiring cabin crew - how to apply and what you could earn