Seán Moncrieff: Flying in a plane makes me feel like a kid again

Most novelties wane with age, but I’m still mesmerised by air travel

By the time you read this, I’ll be in France. Maybe. In advance of any trip, I’m usually knee-deep in Google Street View, plotting out places to visit or avoid. But this time most of my preparation has involved looking at the Dublin Airport website and trying to calculate if the official queuing times bear any relationship to the snaking lines depicted in all the outraged Twitter posts.

We have been greatly looking forward to the trip – it’s a long weekend to visit friends – but for me, at least in part, it’s already been ruined by the DAAmagedden.

Yes, that sounds spoiled. After all, I’m in France. Probably. The only extra hassle was a bit of queuing.

Let me explain: when I was a kid, I loved all the science-fiction TV shows. Thunderbirds, Lost in Space, Star Trek. Anything that involved leaving the planet stoked an intense wonder in me. The magical technology, the mind-boggling vastness of outer space and the idea that anything could be out there.

That feeling never left. Nowadays, you can admit to being an adult who enjoys the many iterations of Star Trek without seemingly like a weirdo. And I do. The plots can at times be facile and derivative, the dialogue can be witless and pious, the characters can be unlikable. Yet still I get a child-like comfort from it. Herself watches the Kardashians for similar reasons.

Zip forward a few decades from my childhood to the early part of this century when I had a gig presenting a travel show on RTÉ. It only lasted for one series, but it equipped me with stories that I still tell to people who have probably heard them several times before. In Denmark, I jumped into a hole cut in a frozen lake. Off the coast of the Cayman Islands, I stood on a sandbar and fed stingray. In Singapore, I sipped a tonic wine – allegedly an aphrodisiac – that was made from a deer’s penis.

The logistics were such that I would fly to a country and be met by a film crew who would then record me humiliating myself by trying sundry local sporty activities. I’d spend two or three days doing that, then fly on to a different country, a different crew and new humiliations. It was exhausting and wonderful and such a whirl of sensations that it was all but impossible to appreciate until afterwards.

It also involved a lot of air travel, usually by myself. The flights were often a calming respite from the frenetic filming days, but also led me to a realisation. If there was ever a reason to get heartily sick of air travel, then Dublin-London-Denmark-Singapore-Australia-Dublin (and multiple stopovers) would be it. But that never happened. Instead, I realised that I absolutely love air travel. I love airports: the differences and similarities, the sense of expectation they embody, the wild variety of people moving past, each with their own journey.

For all the obvious reasons, I haven’t been on a plane since 2019. And I was hoping to have some quality airport time. Now it’s more likely to be an anxious queue and a mad dash to the gate.

But at least there’s the aeroplane. A saddening function of getting older is that novelty can wane. There’s an accumulation of experiences, many of which you’ve had before. They lose the startling clarity of the first time. The colours start to fade.

But never on a plane. I still love that moment when it has taxied out on to the runway, that brief pause before the pilot slams on the accelerator, and then seconds later, the feeling of weightlessness as we rise into the sky. It brings me back to being a kid watching Star Trek. Every single time. It’s not quite space exploration, but it is escaping gravity and arriving at a different point on the planet. For me, that’s still a wonder.