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Melanie Morris: Suddenly flying's fun again as Aer Lingus gets its mojo back

WHY are politicians always behind the times? Do Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister David Cameron, both photographed last week on Ryanair flights, not know these days, it's all about flying the flag?

We're done with no-frills airlines; those supposedly 'low-cost' carriers who claim to charge you one cent for a flight, but then add on enough extras, surpluses, levies and surcharges until your total tot goes well into three figures.

Obscure

Then, as we know, they fly you from makeshift buildings at the farthest part of Dublin Airport, to obscure locations miles away from the main cities that you want to visit.

They'll police your hand luggage so you can't hold as much as a wallet outside your carry-on bag, they vary the size of their permitted luggage racks and, once on board the planes, they'll try sell you scratch cards before asking you to clean up around your seat.

Enough! Especially as, and I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed this, but since the opening of Dublin's Terminal 2, Aer Lingus has certainly got it's mojo back.

Yes, the little airline we were once proud of, with its emerald green shamrock and perfectly coiffed flight attendants, has returned to core values -- comfort and good service.

After a few years chasing the jet streams of the the no-frills fliers, our homely national airline has decided to abandon the 'low-cost model' and given us back quality, without sky-high prices. Thank goodness. It's time we realise there's no point in playing the martyr and accepting rude, inconvenient travel when there's an excellent, well-priced, alternative, as I've recently discovered.

I've been on return Aer Lingus flights three times in the past three weeks, and each was like a return to the glory days of flying.

Cattle

My first trip -- to the UK -- introduced me to Terminal 2. Clean, efficient and so easy to navigate.

Fab shops and restaurants, happy helpers and security staff who didn't treat passengers like cattle.

In fact, I even had a bit of a chat about my footwear with one, who gamefully suggested I "give them a bash" through the body scanner, rather than bolshily insisting I took them off.

The second -- to Germany -- introduced me to the new Gold Circle Lounge (available to all for a fee, or gratis to Aer Lingus Business Class or frequent fliers).

It was better than fab -- free wifi, fresh sandwiches (crusts off), fruit salad, Pinot Grigio and even a copy of IMAGE Magazine for me to read my own work.

Finally, last week, en route to London, Aer Lingus excelled itself.

Even better than the days of the cheeky air hostesses who'd tuck a mini bottle of champagne in to your hand luggage before landing.

On this trip, we realised that my mum had forgotten her passport when we got to check in.

Rather than shrug and make our lives hell (and expensive), the really lovely Aer Lingus ground staffer (hello, Anne Hoey!) looked after my mother, sat her down with coffee and a magazine while I did dash home and back.

Horror

Not only that, but when I returned, she'd arranged two seats for us on the next flight - for free -- just in case I didn't make it in time.

Can you imagine Michael O'Leary doing that?

We've all got no-frills airline horror stories.

In the past, I've had nights in Stansted Airport hotels, at considerable personal expense, just because Ryanair didn't sync their connections and wouldn't let me go standby on a later flight.

But, and despite some heavy-hitting redundancies, and a dodgy decade in the wilderness, Aer Lingus seems to be back with a bang.

They're doing clever things like selling last-minute upgrades on the transatlantic routes, they're offering flexible fares, and they're giving service with -- shock, horror -- a smile.

And in return, true to the airline's slogan, we are actually enjoying our flight.


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