AIRLINE operators were forced to apologise yesterday after hundreds of Irish passengers experienced lengthy flight delays because of security over President George W Bush’s visit to Britain.
Not only did customers have to wait late into Sunday night to fly to and from airports, but they then faced long bus journeys to their original destination because of the US president’s arrival.
Delays at Heathrow airport began early in the afternoon, said Aer Lingus.
An extra 40 minutes was added to times for flights coming from and going to Ireland, said a company spokeswoman.
By Sunday evening though, delays had become worse.
Flight EI724 from Cork to Heathrow was due to depart at 9.45pm. However, passengers, only after checking in, were told they would be flying at 11pm, and to Luton. Aer Lingus then arranged for a bus to carry passengers on the hour-long journey to Heathrow.
However, returning passengers to Cork faced longer delays. Flight EI725 was scheduled to fly out of Heathrow at 10.15pm.
Instead, passengers were put on a 10.20pm plane with other Aer Lingus travellers going to Dublin.
After landing, the Cork-bound passengers then had to travel for over three hours by bus to their destination, not arriving in the city until after 2am.
Aer Lingus yesterday apologised for delays, saying: “This was out of our control. It was due to restrictions on aircraft, which then had a knock-on effect.
“We got customers to where they should be and did our very best to accommodate them,” added the spokeswoman.
One Irish traveller to Heathrow described the scene when delays had set in by Sunday night.
“It was chaotic. There were people coming in who had missed transatlantic connections and flights to Africa,” said the businessman.
British Midlands also apologised to customers yesterday after several of its flights were delayed by around an hour because of the president’s visit.
The airline runs up to 16 flights daily between Ireland and Britain and said delays had been minimal.
Reports yesterday said the flow rate of aircraft using the airport was reduced as a result of Air Force One arriving at Heathrow.
Normally 42 aircraft take-off or land every hour at the airport. This had to be cut to approximately 24 an hour as the president arrived. The backlog delayed many passengers as up to 180,000 passengers use Heathrow Airport every day.
The arrival of President Bush meant that his Air Force One Boeing 747 was given priority landing clearance as well as another back-up Boeing 747 and a Boeing 757.
In addition to this four helicopters were readied to protect the president and a fleet of armoured cars.
The trip to London was part of his farewell tour of Europe before leaving the White House when his presidency ends.
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