Airfields were giant pristine lawns (or sandy beaches, as in the beginnings of commercial flight to Jersey) and passengers flew in luxurious surroundings sipping martinis. It was first-class travel and the preserve of the well-heeled.
Flying in comfort, while dining on fine food and wines, is still the select domain of those who can afford to travel first, club or business class, while budget passengers are packed tightly in the economy seats.
Air travel became the preferred long-haul mode of travel as planes got bigger, and the upward mobility of the working classes from the 1960s onwards not only made the average man and woman more affluent, but also broadened horizons.
Unfortunately, mass air travel spawned an ugly modern beast that consumes vast tracts of land and produces a collection of nondescript buildings set in acres of concrete comprising car parks of leviathan proportions, mile upon mile of security fences and light pollution that can be seen from outer space – otherwise knows as an airport.
Our own version has altered beyond recognition in the living memory of local air travellers. The picturesque collection of 1930s buildings and classic aircraft hangars have been overwhelmed by the necessity for a modern and safe airport that meets the international standards required for Jersey is to maintain the vital air links to the UK and beyond. Call me an incurable romantic, but was it really necessary to turn it into a duty-free shopping mall attached to a runway?
There was a time when a visit to the Airport was a pleasing experience. For families the world over, a trip to an airport used to be a cheap day out where children could be entertained by the comings and goings of travellers or could while away the hours plane-spotting.
Everything changed as terrorism spread its evil tentacles and security-minded authorities decided to create two separate areas to be known henceforth as ‘landside’ and ‘airside.’
A ticket and passport were required to traverse from the former to the latter, which has evolved in to shopping in travel limboland.
What were travellers to do as they waited airside other than indulge in the freedom to shop? As mankind exists with the prime purpose to exercise the democratic right to shop 24/7, 365 days a year, why not while waiting to board a plane?
Until this autumn, Jersey Airport had not succumbed to duty-free retail worship on as grand a scale as others. But if you build air terminals to r ensemble cathedrals with vaulted ceilings, soaring arches and plenty of space, how do you fill them? A fountain may looks nice, but the coins tossed in by wishful souls don’t cover landing fees.
It may have taken Islanders a while to get accustomed to the voluminous departures hall, but it was an airy open public area to be enjoyed by all. It was conducive to creating a calm harmony among nervous travellers.
Waiting to board a big heavy machine about to defy gravity with you on board (not to mention the thousands of gallons of highly inflammable fuel flowing in close proximity to the fuselage) is not a prospect to dwell on in social isolation, whereas the chance to share a potential last few moments with loved ones over a glass of something fortifying is somewhat comforting.
Not any more. There is just enough time for a quick hug when you are dropped off, then a fleeting experience of checking in before being channelled through security into Duty-Free Land where the search for a comfy seat – at least one which does not require buying anything to sit on it – begins.
I no longer find leaving Jersey by air the pleasant experience it once was, especially when Gatwick is the next port of call. I now approach it with a steely determination to find the exit to the first-floor viewing area where, free from any retail experience whatsoever, the more discerning traveller can enjoy the view over the runway. At this rate, Islanders departing for holidays are in serious danger of parting with their spending money before they get into the air.
Dodging eager customer-care assistants intent on spraying you with some nauseating scent while manoeuvring a steady course through display upon display of things no one really wants to buy (but will do because they are cheaper) is certainly a good exercise in an effort to avoid the danger of suffering from deep-vein thrombosis.
Jersey no longer has an Airport; it can now boast a shopping mall attached to a runway, not to mention a huge new control tower that is visible from vantage points as far away as Five Oaks and the heights of Grouville.
In the computer age, when air traffic controllers and air crews rely on technology to take-off, fly and land aircrafts, why on earth do airports need tall control towers? Or does the occasion still arise when an air traffic controller has to open a window and manually guide the pilot of the BA red eye safely on his way?
The Airport has long been an acknowledged source of noise pollution and is a leading suspect as the source of the Millais Hum, which is annoying the good folk of the St Ouen cueillette. Also in the frame are the French (windmills on the Cherbourg peninsula, to be precise) mobile phone masts, imminent alien invasion and convicts tunnelling out of La Moye.
Whatever amusing and highly original explanations have been suggested, I lay the blame firmly in the new duty-free shopping mall.
The simultaneous whirr of credit card payments being processed, coffee machines frothing up gallon upon gallon of cappuccino, perfume testers spraying forth, muzak and all the other retail-related activities are merging into a monotonous tone.
As this escapes the terminal, it bounces off the new control tower in the direction of Millais. A few strategically placed deflectors should solve the problem.