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Neil Patrick: Grounded by the agony of air travel

If you're flying away to foreign parts this month, to have a happy holiday. Me? I'm earthbound this summer- and for the foreseeable future.

This reason: After decades of regularly taking to the skies, my love of flying has come down with a bump. What was once a magical experience has lost its appeal. Flying makes me grumpy nowadays, having finally seen through that proverb about it being better to travel hopefully than to arrive. 

Quite simply, the whole flying business is too much of a faff. I'm tired of suffering anxious moments with fingers and everything crossed, looking at departure boards.

I'm weary of trudging around shops trying to eat up time, having arrived three hours before the flight (that, after fretting over possible road delays getting to the airport).

I wasn't surprised to read a recent survey revealing that most people booking a week's holiday abroad lose out because their unsocial flight times effectively wiped out two of the days. 

Like most people, I take air travel for granted- yet- it's still awe-inspiring if you think about it that you can leave the wintry sleet of Britain at breakfast-time and be wallowing in the the Dead Sea before dinner. 

And yes, flying can be fabulous. The aeroplane has enabled me to walk into Egyptian tombs, marvel at the Taj Mahal and encounter, in the wild, exotic animals I first saw caged up when I was a boy (and then only when Chipperfields came to town).

When as schoolchildren we sang that, 'on wings of song', we could all travel in our imagination to 'fair Asian lands', I never would have dreamed that Freddie Laker's magic carpet would show the way to the cheap flights that would allow me to walk through those lands, enjoying a drink from a fresh coconut along the way. 

But that was then. Now, for me, the tension and crowds and indifference of airline staff have finally robbed global travel of its allure. 

So I'm taking a welcome break from the pre-dawn check-ins, and having to join the herds of other bargain-basement flyers moving like penned sheep towards pre-flight checks. 

I'm no longer happy to suffer cheerless customer service; I still smart over a pre-dawn duel with an irritable check-in lady who would have suited a role in Prisoner Cell Block H. I will not miss the charmless army in customs, or the nasty little add-ons of cut-price airlines. (Really- who would have thought they'd stoop to screwing extra revenue from family members in exchange for being allowed to sit together?)

No more will I suffer passengers who, without so much as a by your leave, flip their seat into recline mode, giving me a claustrophobic faceful of chair-back. No more will I fume and look up with disdain at fellow passengers who leap to their feet like impatient children, clogging the aisles, the second that a plane comes to a standstill. 

Are my rose-tinted specs misleading me, or was there really a time when flying was fun- actually fun? When one of the most exciting parts of your holiday was getting to where you were going?

A time when airline desk staff sent you on your way with a smile, when stewardesses were convincing in their apparent wish to serve. A time when )for perfectly good reasons) you weren't presumed on sight to be potential security risk, trudging along with your trayful of possessions, as if you were in a police custody suite. 

I don't now about you, but for me, air travel loses its last vestige of glamour when you're holding your trousers up with one hand, clutching your shoes in the other, and gripping your wallet between your teeth. 

I still don't know exactly what you can 'take through'- and it's clear I'm not alone when you look at the caseful of confiscated liquids in customs. Oh, for the days when the only liquid you had to worry about before take-off was your duty-free hooch, which back then really was cut-price. All right, memory can play tricks. Of course, flying during the early days of the great boom in foreign holidays was not always carefree. Air traffic controllers were as militant then as they still are (strikes and staff shortages cost the EU economy £15bn last year).

Planes tended to be noisier, destinations were fewer, and (outrageous as it now seems) smoking was allowed on board.

Of course, once we all used to buy our holidays through a travel agent, more personal and civilised than internet booking. You often got the benefit of an adviser who had visited the very venue you had your eye on (happy peseta-filled days when, in the Seventies, £69 would be more than enough to  book a two-week full-board blow-out in Majorca). 

Just as I began looking hard at taking boats and buses and trains instead of planes in future, a middle-aged family member announced that she had finally overcome her fear of flying, one phobia that for me makes sense. After all, launching a 350-ton tube full of people into the air and keeping it up there for 1000 miles does seem a little chancey...

Occasionally the risk has been brought home to me. Once, when air travel was a novelty for me, returning from abroad I looked down as we circled Gatwick and saw the charred remains of a Boeing 727 that had crashed and caught fire, killing 50.

However, I've never been put off flying by thoughts of safety, even when the newspapers have reported near-misses, and (occasionally) engines catching fire, bits falling off and other reasons for high anxiety at 35,000 feet.

Three million to one against being killed while flying has always seemed decent odds.

No, my disillusionment now is over the drudgery that flying has become and the indifference you come up against among those who are there to serve. 

As a veteran flyer, I've witnessed dramas on planes (a near-choking one time and other alarming mid-flight health crises), and had a couple of rough rides. I've been delivered by an aircraft 70 miles from the intended airport. I;ve spent a night and much of the next day on an airport floor during a strike, and once, having encountered a blocked road, arrived breathless at the gate within minutes of missing the flight taking me for the holiday of a lifetime. 

I've struggled to stay patient in the prison of my seat for what seemed like hours, as aircrews sorted out 'technical hitched' or chased missing baggage or missing passengers- leasing to a 'missed slot', all explained away by a silver-tongued captain.

Yes, it;s decided. For now, enough of flying... and absolutely no more draining long-haul trips. I've got my feet firmly on terra firma instead of my head in the clouds as the holiday brochures keep arriving.

So, don't beam me up, Scotty- this summer I'm tootling off to the British seaside.

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