Ashes to ashes…

Day five of the volcanic ash crisis…and perhaps the end is in sight (for Europe at least, Canada may be next).

Britain has yet again been reminded that it is most definitely an island nation – or rather, a nation comprised of several islands. For some reason we only realise this at moments of severe weather (freezing fog or extreme cold) or when all planes are grounded thanks to an Icelandic volcano. Despite the fact that we’ve always been surrounded by water, every time we lose our tenuous links with the mainland it comes as a surprise.

Many are saying that we’ve become too dependent upon fast, cheap air-travel, both for travel and for freight. Currently 400,000 Britons are stranded somewhere in the world (and this is after many have made it back from across the Channel) because they were on a short Easter holiday in the sun or a long-haul business trip. Supermarkets have no fresh Kenyan roses or packaged fruit salad. Should we really be relying upon overseas imports of flowers and unseasonal fruit and view regular flights to nice places as normality?

It struck me today that until I was 17, my experience of flying had been very limited. True, there was my inaugural 24 hour flight aged 6months when I returned from the tropics, but I didn’t set foot on another plane ¬†until I was 10, and not again until I was 17 – that’s 3 trips in 17 years. In the last 10 I’ve been on 17. Admittedly, at least 7(ish) of those are thanks to the parents moving to Belfast and the fact that I’m lucky enough to have had some pretty interesting travelling opportunities, but I definitely take it for granted. I plan my Clinique purchases around my family’s flight schedules and have a well-defined Gatwick routine.

But, even with half the family in Ireland, it doesn’t have to come down to flying. There are ferries, which we’ve used, especially at Christmas, though the 8hour Belfast – Liverpool crossing is a tough test of endurance. When my Dad was a student in Dublin 30 years ago, flying there wasn’t even considered. The journey took a day and you accepted it. Thus, he was fairly non-plussed to find himself stranded in Manchester on Thursday morning. He discovered he could buy a train ticket to Dublin that included the ferry (a bargain at ¬£27 – worth knowing) and got home late the same night.

My sister was stranded in Germany and had a little bit of a rawer deal as she was in the company of 20 choristers. (She has very entertaining holidays…) But, partly thanks to it being a school trip they were safely on a coach back to the UK hours before their original flight was due to depart. Yes, she had 20 hours in a confined space with young boys high on sugar, but at least she got home. Twenty years ago [I’ve actually just shocked myself by writing that…how am I this old?!?] our family went on its first holiday to Bavaria and we drove all the way – it took two days, but that’s what we did. [Random recollection from that drive: For a considerable amount of time I thought all German roads led to a town called ‘Ausgang’…turns out that was just the sign for an exit off the autobahn.] All three holidays that took place outside the UK during my childhood were reached by car, there was never any hint at flying somewhere.

Yes, lots of people are in unenviable situations, but (so far) this ‘disaster’ hasn’t killed anyone. As a bonus, the skies have been quiet – no noise or any other form of pollution being issued from the flying tin cans.

Perhaps we just need to slow down and take time over our journeys. Time is a luxury, but so is our planet and reckless (or even unthinking) flying is damaging it.

Should we really being relying upon planes to import fruit & veg just because we want to be able to eat it all year round?

Lots of questions, but few practical answers. Give it a week or so and things will go back to normal and we’ll have forgotten all about it. I’m not a Green – in all likelihood flight will continue to be my transport of choice to Ireland because I don’t have the time to spend a day getting there and back. My feet itch for destinations beyond the confines of Europe on a regular basis and while I can afford to, I’ll scratch that itch as often as I’m able. [Apologies, not an attractive metaphor.] But I do care for this planet and don’t want to act in a careless or reckless way.

Still, something to ponder, surely?

PS – If anyone’s in need of/interested in good quality, regularly updated information about volcanic travel, check out the Guardian’s live blog. Truly excellent and endlessly diverting.

A surreal way to die?

I’m not scared of flying, and today’s flight home from Belfast was just as calm as usual, but during a brief moment of turbulence I had a fleeting vision of how my life might end if the plane should fall from the sky at that moment…

A still drunk women’s rugby team serenading a newly married couple with “I love you baby”, whilst a Hollyoaks star tried to hide behind Easyjet’s in-flight magazine.

Seriously, the most surreal flight I’ve ever been on, which is saying something as today’s flight was the 10th in the last 2 months!

(Half-way) Round the world in 30 hours

It’s not right. Humans should not be made to travel in tin-can boxes, thousands of feet above the ground, for hour after hour after hour. There is a price to pay for a holiday in NZ and that price (well, apart from the cost of flights etc) is a 30 hour journey.

Just under 24 hours actual flight time with Royal Brunei Air (no, I’d not heard of them either) plus a few hours on each of our 3 stops. This time last week I’d never been to Dubai, Brunei or Brisbane. Now I have and in 2 weeks time I get to go back.

For an obscure airline, Royal Brunei are fine. Good choice of films and you can watch what you want, when you want. Unfortunately, after 12 hours I’d already watched the two that topped my list and realisation hit me that the list wasn’t going to change before my return journey. I’m pretty happy watching Enchanted over & over, but my fellow passengers might not be so impressed with my lip-synching and humming along!

Oh, and there’s no alcohol. Brunei, I’ve discovered, is dry (and possessing drugs is punishable by DEATH – we were told that a lot). How are you supposed to survive a flight that long with no G&T or wine??

Two passengers across the aisle from me had the right idea. They’d bought a bottle of whisky at duty free and proceeded to drink the ENTIRE bottle before we got to Dubai (6 hour flight). At Dubai one of the pair left the plane, the other went all the way to Auckland, looking very sorry for himself most of the time!

Anyway, impressions:
Dubai – shiny airport with comfortable leather seats. Didn’t see much else!
Brunei – had a bit of a Tenko moment. Airport’s a bit rubbish and very humid, but there’s a nice view.
Brisbane – friendly security people. Spent all my time in Oz in a queue for security thanks to their uber hot luggage rules (even for transit passengers) fun stuff.