A brief encounter on a Ryanair flight: ‘I never even got her name’

Conor Pope: A humble, wise older woman and an entitled younger woman demanding wine

“I liked her instantly. We talked about the weather and the traffic jams.” Photograph: iStock

“I liked her instantly. We talked about the weather and the traffic jams.” Photograph: iStock

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When I set off for Dublin Airport in the rain last weekend ahead of a Ryanair flight to Luton, I didn’t think I’d be taking a journey through time – but I did and I was the better for it.

First, I had to contend with the wearyingly predictable panic of regular travel. In the absence of a more efficient route to the airport, I went by road, leaving from the city centre three hours before my scheduled flight time. But the rain, coupled with an M50 crash and – you know – Friday meant there were tailbacks which turned my timely departure into a stressed and sweaty sprint through the airport with 90 minutes to spare.

I had a bag to check in so went to an efficient-looking Ryanair machine where I weighed it and tagged it and lifted it onto a belt. The manoeuvre displeased the belt, which told me my bag’s weight had changed in the seven seconds it took to carry it from one scales to another. Nothing had been removed or added so I tried again. And again. And still the machine said no.

I approached a Ryanair staff member who cut me dead with such imperious rudeness that it was hard to be unimpressed. Eventually, a much nicer staff member came to my aid and I was away.

As the Popes decanted their belongings into the grey trays at security, I realised I’d left my driver’s licence at home so wouldn’t be able to collect the rental car on the other side as planned. That was a lovely moment. Then I couldn’t get the automated food machine to accept my order so we raced hungry to the gate just in time to join a massive and resolutely static queue for what Ryanair euphemistically calls Priority Boarding.

“There are more people in priority than in the normal queue,” the woman ahead of me said. “Since they changed the baggage rules, it’s the cheapest way to get a bag on. It’s a joke isn’t it?”

I wasn’t laughing. Eventually we boarded and I took my middle seat as my little girl sat by the window. The aisle seat remained free and just as the passengers fighting down the aisle thinned and I started hoping I’d have some breathing space, an old woman in a wine-coloured coat and matching hat plonked herself down beside me.

Her hat fell at my feet. I picked it up. It was sodden . “Oh it doesn’t keep the rain off at all but I like its style,” she said with a raspy laugh. I liked her instantly. We talked about the weather and the traffic jams. She said she was off to visit her niece in London. And then – as we waited on the runway – she told me her life story, or part of it.

She grew up over her granny’s shop in the north-inner city. Her grandfather had bought it in 1904 just before he died so his widow and three young children would have some means to get by in his absence. After he died, one of his children – my fellow traveller’s father – was sent to an orphanage near his home where he stayed for a decade. “He saw some terrible things, awful violence,” she told me. She whispered that he’d even witnessed the death of a young boy at the hands of a staff member, but didn’t elaborate. “He was so well read though, in a way he was educated above his class. It made it hard for him to fit in when he got out.”

Family home

He moved back to the family home above the shop ahead of his daughter’s birth. Then the family relocated to Marino to the very same road my father was living on at the very same time. They didn’t know each other. “We didn’t have anything – no one did. But we knew how to make do,” she told me.

She left school at 14 and walked the north quays, calling into small factories along the way seeking work. She found a job in a hatters. Then she met a man and they ran off to the UK – a bold move for a young girl in the 1950s. They were engaged briefly but it didn’t work out so home she came.

She married, had children and trained as a counsellor and worked through the 1980s in Dublin’s drug-ravaged communities. She spoke about liberation theology, religious oppression and the venality of politicians. She expressed a distaste for Peter Casey and a loathing of Donald Trump.

As she spoke, our attention was diverted to a row in the row of seats in front of us. A young woman was giving out to a staff member because service from the drinks trolley had stopped before getting to her and she wanted wine. I marvelled to myself at how her sense of modern-day idiotic entitlement stood in contrast to the humble wisdom of the woman next to me. Then the plane landed with a bump and minutes later she was gone. I never even got her name.

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