By Olivia Tracey
Aer Lingus, our darling Irish airline, is every bit the object of my affection these days, as indeed it probably is with every other Southern California resident, Irish and otherwise. Gone are the days when we had to make that coveted trip to Ireland via London or elsewhere, adding complications and precious hours to an already long flight. Now Aer Lingus has flown in to save us, sweeping us directly to Dublin or Shannon with comfort, convenience and pampering aplenty.
Of course, we haven’t as yet had our first date, so to speak, as the scheduled service inaugurates Memorial Day weekend, on Friday, May 28. However, we enjoyed a get-to-know-you lunch at no less than the chi-chi Beverly Hilton Hotel, where we were fed royally on champagne-dressed goat’s cheese salad, supreme of chicken with apricot sauce and a delicious Bailey’s Irish Cream mousse. Of course, in true ladylike manner, I refrained from the wine, keeping all my wits and senses attuned to the charms of my hosts, Aer Lingus, The Irish Tourist Board and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Equally endearing were the lunch guests who included, among others, Gabriel Byrne, IDA’s Jim Whelan, CIE Tours James McKay, The Irish Fair’s Terry Anderson, Emerald Greens’ Tony O’Donnell, Michael and Gretchen Wayne, Jimmy and Anne Murphy, The American Ireland Fund’s Pat Heirs, Lunar Lights’ Deirdre O’Neill, Aer Lingus’ Jack Foley and the newly appointed Western Region sales manager, Diane Baker, The Irish Tourist Board’s Tom Heneghan and Access to Travel’s Teresa Nealon with her new and handsome husband, John Wallace.
Also there of course was Joe Byrne, The Irish Tourist Board’s executive vice president-North America, who was especially pleased with the snowballing success pattern of their West Coast promotional blitz. He is particularly looking forward to June when radio host Melodie Rogers will celebrate Ireland as destination of the month with a series of ads and live reports from the Emerald Isle. He is also delighted that the number of Americans traveling to Ireland on vacation has hit another all-time high, last year’s 10 percent gain more than doubling the number of U.S. visitors to Ireland over the last decade. No doubt this will only expand further with the new direct LAX-to-Dublin route.
To start, the West Coast service will provide a selection of thrice-weekly flights from Los Angeles to Ireland (Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays), with plans for an increase to five flights per week by next year. We will enjoy non-stop service to Dublin with continuing service to Shannon, along with the perfectly civilized flight times of a 6:15 p.m. departure from L.A., arriving in Dublin at 12:30 p.m. the following day, or in Shannon at 2 p.m. The return flights are just as refined, departing Shannon at 10:45 a.m. and Dublin at 12:30 p.m. with arrival in Los Angeles at 3:45 p.m. the same day.
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Adding to the convenience factor are same-terminal connections for onward travelers to the U.K. and Continental Europe, along with U.S. immigration pre-clearance at Dublin and Shannon. Travelers have a choice of flying Classic Economy or Premier Class, the latter providing state-of-the-art seating with individual video screens an computer ports, touch control sleeperettes with 52 inches of legroom and gourmet dining or light cuisine along with complimentary limousine transfers in the U.S., U.K. and Ireland (or a three-day Avis car rental), exclusive check-in privileges and use of the Gold Circle lounges in the U.S. and Ireland.
A further bonus with flying Premier is the extremely attractive American Express Platinum, card "Premier Two for One" program whereby Premier Class passengers using the American Express Platinum card to purchase their ticket can bring along a companion for free. This is a continuation of the airline’s "Premier Two for One" program, currently on offer from all six U.S. direct-flight gateways to Ireland, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Newark, Atlanta and, of course, its newest gateway, Los Angeles. Travel must take place between May 1, 1999 and April 30, 2000. For more information. call 1 (800) 443-7672, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. eastern time, and weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
And there’s more. Our national airline has announced new rates and enhancements as part of its vacation package. They offer holiday makers flexibility and variety with the discover Ireland "Go-As-You-Please" option, allowing visitors to travel at their own pace with open-dated B&B or hotel accommodation. For those who prefer a more definite plan, the pre-booked "City and Country" package is an option, with confirmed reservations at a variety of hotels, country inns and castles (no minimum-maximum, stay requirements). An additional enhancement to the Discover Ireland 1999 program is the Avis rental car, with rates from only $21 per day. And, of course, Discover Ireland offers EuroCity Stays in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, starting at $52 per person sharing, as well as trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Rome, Milan and Dusseldorf, starting at $44 per person sharing. For reservations and flight information call 1 (800) IRISH-AIR (1  474-74240).
Yes, our national airline has indeed come a long way since its first flight, from Dublin to Bristol, on May 27, 1936. In the last two years, it has added service from Newark, doubled its frequency from Chicago as well as added capacity from Boston and Chicago. In all, the airline offers over 200 flights daily to 30 cities across the U.S., U.K., Continental Europe and Ireland. And if the impressive new commercials and cool high-tech promo videos are anything to go by, this growth trend should continue even further.