Travels Part 1: Hobart to Harris

View from Tarbert Isle of Harris

No matter how many times you’ve done it, there’s still something miraculous and disconcerting about strapping yourself into a metal tube and flying across the world.

Airlines go to great lengths to persuade you that it’s a normal and comfortable thing to do. They try their best to make that tube feel like home. Qantas welcome you with a hearty ‘G’day mate!’ and hand out complementary socks with cartoon kangaroos on them. Finnair design their cabin lighting to resemble the aurora borealis, and Loganair provide Harris Tweed headrests and Tunnocks caramel wafers. But when you undertake ten flights in three weeks, from Tasmania to the Outer Hebrides and back again, the resulting sensory overload means there’s no escaping the strangeness of air travel. Continue reading

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No More Planes

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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. Continue reading

Flying With Family

“Oh no,” said DorkyDad. “What a terrible start to a holiday.” We had just been treated to the sight of Alex Salmond, recently off a flight from London, strutting through Edinburgh airport. For a man in a crumpled suit, he exuded an extraordinary air of arrogance.

As it turned out, DorkyDad was right. Our holiday did not get off to a great start. A security alert at Edinburgh meant that we missed our connection at Heathrow. Despite arriving with 25 minutes to spare, we were discouraged from even attempting to catch it, and had already been re-booked onto another flight the next morning.

There followed a farcical afternoon and early evening, in which we were sent from floor to floor, desk to desk, and back again, in an attempt to secure three things: our bags and DorkySon’s pram, a bed for the night, and confirmation of our flight the next day. It proved surprisingly difficult. Individually, every member of staff we spoke to was lovely. Collectively it seemed like the right hand wasn’t even aware of the left hand’s existence. I am giving myself a week or two more to chill out before I write to BA… but they had better be ready for me.

Anyway, four hours and one jaw-droppingly expensive hotel room later, all was well. DorkySon would probably have been happy if we’d spent that one night at the Heathrow Hilton and come home again. He got on a bus to the hotel; when we’d got settled we ordered room service (or as he puts it “A man knocked on the door with burger and chips”); there were chairs that were the perfect height to practice jumping off; there were unlimited bubbles in the bath; and then he spent the night in a new bed. What could be better?

The next morning we got on our flight to Toronto without any problems. Three flights later we are back in Edinburgh, and there have been no other major setbacks. But the whole experience has reminded me how unpleasant it is to fly.

That may be partly due to how much harder air travel is as a family. We found it stressful enough with two parents and one toddler. I’m still getting chills thinking about the poor woman I saw waving off her husband, before boarding a transatlantic flight alone with three children. I found myself having single passenger envy; glaring at those people who sat alone at a table, sipping wine and reading a book, their one small carry-on bag tucked in by their feet. I sat there in the same café – sweaty old me with a bulging backpack, smoothie smears on my leggings, trying to cut up an overpriced pizza with one hand while sending reassuring texts to family members with the other – and wondered what had happened to my life.

But as other bulging backpack carriers will know, preparation is everything. If you’re getting on an eight-hour flight with a two year old, and you don’t want to annoy every other passenger by having a screamer, you need to have enough books, toys, crayons, stickers, snacks, nappies, wipes and iPad apps to go the distance. The liquid ban has made it harder. I had three cartons of Peter Rabbit organic apple juice confiscated in Edinburgh because they were 125ml instead of 100ml. I feel genuinely sorry for the folks working at security these days, because they seem full of common sense – they realized just how ridiculous that was, and were deeply apologetic – but rules are rules.

We encountered lots of good intentions; lots of instances of people trying to do the right thing. We were invited to pre-board on almost every flight… but pre-boarding only works if you actually let people board the plane and get settled, rather than just moving all the families from one hot, cramped room into another. Gate-checking your pushchair is another great idea… but only if you get it back at the plane door at the other end. When we gate-checked DorkySon’s battered old Maclaren in Edinburgh we didn’t realize that it would be sent right through to Toronto… and so when we missed the connection we had to make all those runs between floors without it.

The US and Canada seem to be doing better than the UK.  In both Toronto and Boston there were ‘family only’ security lines, which are a great idea. Not only were they much shorter and faster, when I had to negotiate with DorkySon to remove his shoes, and got in a bit of a tangle trying to fold up his pushchair, I got sympathetic looks rather than irritated ones.

It was the tiniest of glimpses into the way that air travel might look if it was designed by families. Imagine if there were walk-through scanners that allowed you to leave your sleeping baby in their pram rather than wake them up and carry them through. Imagine if there were cartoons on every TV in the airport, drinking fountains, healthy snacks and a range of toys available at every gate. Imagine if, once on board the plane, there was a dedicated nappy changing facility, a sticker book for every under-5, and no armrests to cut off the circulation in your arm when your toddler falls asleep on you.

Sigh. It is a nice dream. And if anyone has any bright ideas about how to make it happen, do let me know. But in the meantime we will make do with missed connections, overpriced pizza, and lost baggage. It is a small price to pay for spending time with loved ones.