Tuesday 16 October 2018

No Google or airline bag fees: How travel has changed in 20 years

A not-so-lonely planet

Ryanair plane in front of a rainbow over Rome, 2014.
Ryanair plane in front of a rainbow over Rome, 2014.
2008: Michael O'Leary poses in traditional Spanish dress prior to a press conference in Madrid. O'Leary was promoting a campaign of budget seats at one euro. Photo: AFP PHOTO/Pedro ARMESTRE
2003: Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary gestures in front of a banner the company erected outside of rival British Airways' travel shop. Photo: SINEAD LYNCH/AFP/Getty Images
An Aer Lingus jet prepares to land at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in 2010. Photo: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Pól Ó Conghaile in Rome
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

“This, famously, is the unspoilt Caribbean,” Alice Fowler wrote. “So unspoilt that, after a week, encountering another car can seem an unreasonable intrusion.”

I’m envious. Alice's travel piece, which ran in the first ever Irish Independent Weekend magazine on November 15, 1997, provides a window into a world that, in many ways, has completely vanished.

Twenty years ago, she would have breezed through Dublin Airport’s sole terminal carrying sharps and liquids in her hand luggage.

Her bags would have been stowed for free, whatever the airline.

911 Museum, New York. A visitor pauses by a photo of the Manhattan skyline taken around 8.30am on September 11, 2001.
911 Museum, New York. A visitor pauses by a photo of the Manhattan skyline taken around 8.30am on September 11, 2001.

And she would have struck out towards the Caribbean without — shock, horror! — a smartphone or social media.

Last Saturday, Weekend Magazine celebrated 20 years, and it prompted us to look in depth at those two decades. How much has changed!

When Alice's piece was published, the Twin Towers soared over New York. Google didn’t exist. Everyone wanted a Tamagotchi. Ryanair had just gone public, carrying around four million passengers that year. And a dream ticket to the Caribbean could have cost enough to put the kids through college.

Today? Those towers are gone. Globalisation is here. As travellers, we’ve gained boutique hotels, Airbnb and double-decker Airbus A380s, while losing phone cards, paper maps, rolls of film and travellers’ cheques.

2003: Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary gestures in front of a banner the company erected outside of rival British Airways' travel shop. Photo: SINEAD LYNCH/AFP/Getty Images
2003: Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary gestures in front of a banner the company erected outside of rival British Airways' travel shop. Photo: SINEAD LYNCH/AFP/Getty Images

Airfares have been unbundled; Aer Lingus sold.

Ryanair now aspires to carry over 200 million passengers a year by 2024 (provided it gets the rostering right, of course) and we book, plan and share our trips on handheld devices that would have sounded like science fiction in November ’97.

Back then, getting in touch with home was a big deal too. It cost money, or it took time. Now, it takes nanoseconds. And that’s not even starting on selfies…

In many ways, it’s been neat. We now have €99 transatlantic flights, the internet at our fingertips, and a planet that seems smaller than ever.

Pól Ó Conghaile in Rome
Pól Ó Conghaile in Rome

But it’s been nasty too. We’ve seen elbow wars, passengers dragged from planes, jockstrap jihadists and mind-numbing security lines.

In 1997, air travel was still the preserve of a relatively privileged minority. Today, it’s democratic. But it’s something you steel yourself for.

Things have also changed on the roads, railways and seas. Cruise ships with waterparks and surf simulators can carry over 6,000 passengers. In 1997, there was no Uber, and a trip advisor was someone you visited in a local travel agent.

The world hasn’t been spoiled since Alice visited the Caribbean. But a lot less of it is unspoilt, if that makes sense. We’ve had a good run, but I think cracks are starting to show.

‘Overtourism’ is a word we’re going to hear a lot more about in the next 20 years of Weekend. Sustainability will lie at the heart of everything.

Online Editors

Editors Choice

Travel Insider Newsletter

Get the best travel tips, deals and insights straight to your inbox.

Also in Life