Ever since I booked an eye-catching flight to Boston three months ago, I've been asking the same question to every single person who has traveled: how bad was Dublin airport?
And so it was with great concern that I boarded my 5.30 bus from Cork before a flight at 13.30 on Saturday morning. After I got on and told the driver where I was going, his answer was not very helpful: “it's tough up there”.
I arrived at terminal 2 just before 9am, still over four hours early for my flight, and thank goodness.
There were no queues outside but there were barriers in place and people were told to enter a specific door for their airline by security guards. The one closest to me laughed when he pointed me through the door marked “No entry” for Delta.
As a US citizen, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel freely to see my family during the pandemic, and the scenes at Dublin Airport were hard to believe after the tranquility I had seen there over the past two years.
Gone are the days with empty terminals, by breaking through security with five other people and getting to know the American clearing guards.
A frequent traveler and constantly late person, I am not one who is overly dramatic with timing, but this is a place where it seems absolutely necessary to follow the advice to arrive at least three hours earlier for an international flight.
While I had dropped my bags in 15 minutes, I felt very sorry for everyone who had booked with Aer Lingus.
A man I spoke to had made it through the premium line in 15 minutes and a group of students said they got out of their bags after about 20 minutes.
However, a family I talked to about three-quarters of the normal check-in queue had already been there for well over an hour.
I went through the security check in about 25 minutes and, fortunately, I did not witness any of the “triage” that the airport had planned during last month's chaos (I had only ever heard of the word triage when I watched Grey's Anatomy, so was special happy about this).
One of the employees I spoke to at the security service said that things had calmed down since last month and that people managed for less than an hour. However, the story is different in Terminal 1.
“It is always full, 24 hours a day. It's not as bad as it used to be, but you would like to stand in line for security at 11:00 for a flight at 13:00 for safety's sake, he said.
The person who checked my bags had similar advice: “This time last year we were actually sitting at home because it was so quiet and now it's so hectic all the time.”
The last time I traveled through this terminal a few months ago, the queues in the Departures lounge had almost matched the mile-long check-in queues outside the security. This time was no different, with travelers seemingly more anxious to get to Starbucks' espresso machine than they were to their port.
After waiting 20 minutes for a coffee – my professional tip at Dublin Airport is to strategically just queue for Butlers, where they eat coffee, scones and toast, rather than wait an hour for the restaurant upstairs for an overpriced piece of toast – eventually found a place in the seating group.
I heard a group of Americans nearby complaining about the queues and the lack of food options – apparently one person even ordered his Burger King online for pick-up and it was still faster than standing in the queue.
The water filling stations have reopened in the building, but make sure they are hidden by the bathrooms and of course there were queues for both services.
After another depot stop there, I went down the stairs to the US pre-clearance, and prepared for another line. This one took the longest time, well over half an hour, and it is extra important to give time here.
A changed flight caused great panic for some passengers, who were not allowed to skip the queue even though their plane would suddenly take off.
Like when I traveled in January, it was almost impossible to get anywhere to sit near one of the gates. Carnage was about the only word I could think of – especially at 11.30 in the morning.
Several flight delays did not help, as our flight was canceled for almost an hour due to obvious staff shortages on the ground.
I heard a group of girls tell their families that Dublin was “the worst airport ever” when we got in, but we spent another hour on the tarmac in Boston, so we're clearly not the only ones having problems.
I was just grateful to have come this far and arrived in Boston tired but in one piece and, most importantly, with luggage.
Almost 17 hours after leaving Cork (for a seven-hour flight), a hug from my dad never felt so good.
Although I'm already a little scared of my return to Dublin Airport – where my friend waited two hours for his bags earlier this week only to find them dumped on the other side of arrivals – all in all, my journey through the fighting system went smoothly enough.
Of course, a cup of tea at the airport still costs an arm and a leg, but some things will never change.
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