AER LINGUS DISPUTE
Sir, - As a dual citizen and frequent visitor to Ireland, I have relentlessly praised the country's beauty, progressive economic strategies and wonderful people to anyone who would listen. I have persuaded hundreds of Americans and Canadians to visit Ireland and have supported Ireland's business and leisure industries for over 30 years.
In late May I led a group of six women, some with disabilities, on a supposedly blissful trip of a lifetime to Cork and Kerry. These were not leprechaun-seekers: they came to experience Ireland's trove of cultural and natural treasures, and to spend dollars. It is lucky that they enjoyed the first week of their holiday, because the uncertainty, anxiety, expense and exhaustion caused by the Aer Lingus strike rendered the homeward leg of the trip a nightmare. It was only through our own resourcefulness that we survived an odyssey that comprised a six-hour drive from Shannon to Belfast, flight to Manchester, flight to Amsterdam, overnight stay and flight to Boston.
Of course, our story is just one of the thousands out there, including many from expatriate Irish people we met who cited this fiasco as yet another example of why they no longer live in Ireland.
Where was the airline's disaster plan? What sort of communication skills are their press staff paid for? Why was there virtually no information from the Government, especially Bord Fáilte, for Irish and foreign travellers? Why were we passengers treated like so many cattle and made to feel that we were the problem? What part of the devastating economic impact of this stupid behaviour do they all not get?
Has nothing been learned from September 11th's disastrous events and their aftermath? Passengers already have enough anxiety about flying. We do not need to endure manipulation and incompetence from a supposedly professional airline company to boot. The travelling public has choice - and we can choose to travel to places where our business is welcomed and we are treated with common courtesy and fairness.
If you want to close the airline, close the airline. Sell it to Ryanair - another rude entity with a "cattle transport" mentality - or just hand over the routes to others who are proven professional transport providers, not greedy adolescent pugilists. Such posturing and contempt for customers can destroy Ireland's fragile economy - nothing less than that. As the PR people say, "A happy customer tells another; an unhappy one tells 10 more."
It is sad to see the worst of America's exports - self-indulgent cynicism - take hold in a land previously revered for its capable, generous and welcoming spirit. Brand Ireland must wake up and grow up, or be content with the third-rate status it seems determined to attain. - Yours, etc.,