One of the nicest things about our holiday up the East Coast last year was that it didn’t involve getting on a plane. We just threw our stuff in the back of the car and off we went.
We’ve just made plans for a few days break over Easter and we’ve done the same thing – booked a cottage that is less than a couple of hours drive away.
I am not keen to get on a plane again for a good long while.
I’ve been trying to work out when it stopped being fun because as a child even the prospect of flying was brilliant. Growing up on Harris, I used to lie on my back in the garden looking at the sky. Tiny Loganair planes flew over the house, on their way to adventures in Inverness or even Glasgow. I would imagine the strangers in suits, quietly reading newspapers and sipping drinks that sparkled with ice cubes and slices of lemon. When I visited my Grandpa, down in Staffordshire, I’d lie and watch bigger planes that had taken off from Manchester. I always thought the rows of white jet trails looked like someone had dragged a fork across the sky.
During my teens and early twenties flying was still a good laugh. Perhaps I’m recalling it through a brain haze of nostalgia but I remember the little trays of food being tasty and fun, the seats feeling wide and comfy, and the queues moving so much faster before we had to take off our shoes and tip out our liquids. The flight – whether it was a short haul to Barcelona or a long haul to Boston – was part of the holiday, rather than just a means of getting there.
But air travel now is less of an adventure and more of an endurance test.
When you travel as a parent, preparation is everything. My carry on bag pre-DorkySon used to hold a book, chewing gum, my phone, and my purse. That was it. Now the bag has grown to Mary Poppins proportions. I spend the flight distributing an endless supply of wet wipes, water, toy cars, tissues, felt pens, spare pants, stickers and snacks.
When we went to Scotland last year, our travel time was around thirty-five hours each way. That is a lot of aeroplanes, and a lot of airports. We must have had a dozen inflight meals, each one indistinguishable from the last. A breakfast-lunch-dinner-snack conveyor belt of chicken, beef and bread rolls, with a generous dollop of heartburn for dessert. There was tepid coffee, water gulped by the gallon, and the occasional life saving Bloody Mary. There was a lot of numb bum and just a little bit of narkiness.
If you ask DorkySon about the flights, he will tell you a different story – a story of lollipops and I Spy, of endless Top Gear episodes on the TV screen, and excitement at the baggage carousel. He would tell you about all the new books he got – and explain that only long flights are for reading, and short ones are for snoozing. He would confess to a little nervousness around Hobart’s sniffer beagle. He would probably tell you that his highlight was a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer on the tiny little Flybe plane that took us from Glasgow to Stornoway.
DorkySon is a champion traveller. He is the only person I know who still finds flying fun. He has quickly realised the perks that come when he behaves well and is polite to everyone he meets. “Hello,” he says to the cabin crew as he steps on the plane. “Hello, hello hello,” he says, grinning as we make our way down the aisle. A flight attendant puts her hand on her heart and gasps at her colleague. “I think I’ve just fallen in love,” she says. For the duration of the flight he is plied with gifts – Dr Seuss books and colouring pencils, chocolate bars and extra pillows.
He uses flying as a great opportunity for people watching, and loves to share his insights. On the flight to Scotland he heard a cry of ‘Ooh la la!’ from a passenger a few rows ahead of us. In a stage whisper he said to me “Mummy, that person must be from Glasgow, that’s what everyone says there.”
But after that exhausting trip last year, even DorkySon had had enough. On the night we arrived home he went upstairs and tucked into bed. A couple of hours later he appeared again at the top of the stairs, looking very confused.
“Is this a reading plane or a sleeping one?’ he asked with tired tears in his eyes and his beloved Binky in his arms, joined now by a bright blue Cuddle Buddy, a gift from Emirates.
“Neither, my love,” I said. “This is just bed now. This is home.”
No more planes for us.
Not for a while.