There was a TV ad in the 1990s for a passenger ferry and the slogan was something along the lines of: “Your holiday starts the moment you board.” It was accompanied by pictures of children eating chicken nuggets and jumping in ball pits while their glamorous parents (played by actors with faces unravaged by the effects of having children of their own) clinked wine glasses and laughed.
The pictures that emerged from Dublin Airport recently depicted quite a different scene. Instead of heralding the start of your holiday, the airport appears now to serve as a type of purgatory you are obliged to pass through before your holiday can really begin. And much like purgatory, you cannot be guaranteed you will actually get out the other side, so you better hope the relatives you left behind are praying for you.
Until now, I had always prided myself on arriving at the airport with as little time to spare as possible; any time to spare seemed to me like a waste of time. I knew that all you ever really needed to get through security was 30 minutes, absolute max. You could depend on Dublin Airport and it had never let me down.
With a sun holiday planned recently, we were set to be four of the 200,000 passengers expected to pass through the airport that weekend. After hearing the initial reports of lengthy queue times, my husband suggested he could head out to the airport ahead of the rest of us to check in the bags and that I follow on later with the kids. Still believing the whole thing to be an overblown storm in a teacup, I listened to his proposal while thinking, “We really are cut from different cloth” (in that I am a better quality, less worrisome cloth).
Curiously, it was very difficult to figure out what the best plan was, with conflicting advice on whether to arrive early or on time. And what even was “on time”? The available timeframe for checking in a bag was a piece of basic information I personally found impossible to locate.
Six days before our departure, the airline emailed with the subject line: “Important information for your upcoming trip” and I thought “Here it is, this is the plan”. The email began: “Travelling at this time is a new experience for everyone.” It continued that they anticipated long queues and that the best way to avoid these queues was to check in online. And that was it, that was the sum total of the plan.
Three days before flying, radio ads gave us our sought-after concrete advice: arrive 2½ hours before short-haul flights and allow an extra hour if you have bags to check in.
We did indeed have bags to check in and this is how we fared.
We were two adults, a one-year-old (in a buggy) and a two-and-three-quarter-old (in the bottom of the buggy). We had a 25kg checked bag and a 10kg checked bag. As hand luggage we had another 10kg suitcase, a backpack, a nappy bag and a toddler-sized backpack for the toddler and all her toddler bits, ie fiddly little toys she ignored and an iPad she adored. (I myself have not carried a handbag for years with my wallet and phone simply being subsumed into the nappy bag like a metaphor for the loss of my identity).
If flying with a baby, my advice to you is this: pack for the airport the same way you did for the maternity hospital – snacks galore and anything in your armoury to distract from you the pain. Medicate however you wish. I even brought adapted affirmations to read aloud as we progressed. For example: “Every surge of irritation brings my holiday closer to me” or “Soon, the airplane gin and tonic will be in my arms”. If you’re feeling brave, try saying: “Dublin Airport knows what it is doing – it was built for this” aloud.
We arrived 3½ hours before our 3pm flight (by prebooked taxi), having already checked in online. We were eight minutes tagging our bags, two minutes dropping them and a further 20 minutes getting through security. And that was us – done and dusted within half an hour, suddenly realising we had a much bigger challenge on our hands: passing three hours at the airport with small kids, knowing it was a mere prelude to keeping them entertained for another four hours on a flight.
I’m going to tell you the best way to pass two hours at the airport and before you roll your eyes, hear me out: The Terminal One Lounge. It’s €25 per adult for two hours’ access to comfortable seats including high chairs, wifi, two alcoholic drinks each and unlimited food, snacks, teas and coffees.
You don’t spend any extra money once you’re there in a way that is almost impossible to avoid elsewhere in the airport. I had a pal who once mistakenly arrived four hours early for her flight and absolutely aghast at the €200 price tag the airline offered her to jump on the earlier flight, she opted to wait it out and save her money. She spent over €300 on food and makeup while she waited.
The four of us camped out in the lounge for two hours which worked out at €6.25 per person per hour. My only complaint would be the lack of trays which is presumably an attempt to hinder guests piling the food high. The plates are teeny – larger than a saucer but definitely smaller than a sideplate. But if they were banking on there being a sense of shame around making multiple return trips to the trough, they backed the wrong horse when they let me in. They say the house always wins but with two bowls of soup, three sandwiches, a bowl of pasta, two coffees, three gins, a carrot cake, a bakewell tart, two bottles of fresh milk for the baby and numerous mini bowls of nuts and crisps, I think we came out on top.
After lounging, we boarded the plane and the wheels only started to come off when halfway through the flight, the toddler (finally giving up the ghost) turned to me and sincerely asked: “Can we get off at the next stop?”