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Aer Lingus and our National Identity: does it really matter anymore?

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AROUND 20 years ago, I left the country for the first time on an Aer Lingus Jumbo Jet. It was an age when not only I was born, but transatlantic travel was a relatively novel concept. Aer Lingus introduced the Irish nation to the notion of comfortable, swift (considering the distance) and somewhat patriotic transport to the land of opportunity.

The company upheld a sense of home and Irishness for those that emigrated and moved away both in time of difficulty and for whatever other reason. Stepping onto the green aircraft emblazoned with the signature Shamrock logo at JFK Airport, or Heathrow, or wherever, brought a sense of, ‘I’m home’ for millions of such expats.

20 years later and the jumbo jets are recycled into drink cans. But does the airline still hold the same unexplainable sense of magic?

You would be forgiven for thinking that Aer Lingus was all about flawed industrial relations and muted controversy, because that’s what headlines it’s filled. Ex management burned bridges a plenty in the Mid-West when they culled the long standing Shannon-Heathrow route many years back in a whimsical commercial decision. It was a decision which did not pass without remorse, with Shannon-Heathrow flights restored to their previous schedule after an almost painful 2 year debacle.

It would not be fair to comment on the state of their industrial relations, because staff obviously have a greatly different understanding and perspective on the issue to what I do. But while respecting the right of the staff to industrial action, it did disrupt travel plans for customers and in turn damage the commercial revenue of the airline.

If you were to ask members of the public which airline they feel represents Ireland as a whole they’ll either say Aer Lingus or they don’t know. I wonder is it because the state is to sell its final shareholding, severing all ties between the airline and the state? To be honest, it’s the only way the company should be, all the same.

They now operate a fleet of Airbus A320’s and A330’s to Europe, the UK and East Coast USA. Of course the focus has shifted to being a commercial operation. For strange and unexplained reasons many of the Irish travelling public have a placebic reaction if the word “Ryanair” is mentioned, with dramatic scenes and tales Shakespeare would have been proud of recounted on Joe Duffy regularly. “They herded us like cattle onto the plane, Joe! Before landing the plane dropped 10,000 feet suddenly Joe!”

This is actually quite beneficial for Aer Lingus. Joe Bloggs is happy because he gets to board the aircraft via an airbridge and as far as he is concerned the pilot has a license.

It is probably reasonable to assert that despite its failings, Aer Lingus will be immortally considered our national airline.

The next time you see the trademark green livery ask yourself, do I consider this part of our national identity? Because for those who see Aer Lingus land at JFK, Heathrow, Madrid or Frankfurt today, they’ll certainly think Irish.

 And remember, you might be drinking Bulmers out of recycled fuselage in another 20 years!

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