As I’ve mentioned previously, I bought a share in a Man Utd season ticket this year. That gets me three pairs of tickets for Premier League home games throughout the season. The first of which was last weekend with the game against Blackburn. I’d booked the flights with Aer Lingus back in August with a preference over Ryanair because I believed I’d get better service. Man was I wrong. Now I have to state that I’ve flown with Aer Lingus before without incident and I had a high opinion of them.
So, last Saturday rolls around and myself and Dar arrive in the airport at 8. The trip had been slower due to the snowy conditions and I knew the runway had been closed briefly so expected a delay. We consult the Departures board which shows “09:25 AER LINGUS 204 – CANCELLED”. Nightmare. It was amongst a handful of flights cancelled and we queued up to find out why from the Aer Lingus desk. After about 15 minutes, a staff member was checking the queue for people travelling to Manchester and explained that the 06.30am flight hadn’t left and to head to the check-in desk. We did just that and got through security quickly and headed for the delayed earlier flight. It’s about 09.20am at this point and things are about to go awry.
We arrived down to the gate where a lot of people hanging around. This was to be expected as most of the airlines were running behind time due to the earlier runway closure. The snowploughs were out in force though and aircraft were beginning to move with a few Ryanair flights going out. There was no sign of the Aer Lingus plane we’d be boarding though and there were no announcements. A guy we’d met earlier in the queue for the other flight was querying what was happening with the gate agent so I had a quick word with him. There was no immediate estimate on when we’d be leaving. Bear in mind that this is now about 11.00am and the original flight was due to leave at 06.30am.
I’d spotted a couple of Aer Lingus planes out on the apron that were parked up since we’d arrived at the gate. Why couldn’t they use one of those planes for the Manchester flight? In the meantime, approx 11.15am, a seperate Aer Lingus plane arrived in and parked close to the gate we were waiting at. We got talking to a guy and his son who had been at the airport since 5am. They were hoping we’d be able to take that plane. He went off to check the departures board which said “Delayed 11:45am” and instructed us to stay at the same gate. A couple of minutes later, the screen changed to display an Aer Lingus flight to Heathrow as the next flight leaving. That flight was running approx an hour late but, as you can understand, it riled a lot of people that Aer Lingus would be running a flight ahead of one delayed for almost 5 hours.
Shortly thereafter, we were directed towards another gate at the other end of the terminal. Upon getting there, we saw no Aer Lingus plane and staff who were ill-equipped to start answering questions from a couple of hundred angry people. A *lot* of people who are travelling to Manchester on a home match Saturday morning are going to Old Trafford and such was the case with the majority of people on our planned flight. The guy who was talking to the gate agent earlier was leading the effort to get answers whilst trying to stay calm. He relayed what the gate agent was saying to the crowd, by shouting, as the staff would not use the tannoy system. We were to be loaded onto a bus to take us to the aircraft, the aircraft would then be de-iced and we’d take off asap after that. The time at this point would be 12.30pm approx. They couldn’t offer any guarantee on what time we’d take off. At this point the airport police turned up, followed shortly by a few Gardai. As Ryanair announced the boarding of a Manchester bound flight, the crowd mock cheered. We were then told that Aer Lingus would be offering a full refund for those who wished to avail of it. Whilst that probably seemed like an acceptable alternate, people would be losing out on match tickets which were already paid for. I’d like to point out that a few kids were in floods of tears at this point at the prospect of missing the game.
We eventually boarded a bus to take us to a plane that had been sitting there since 8.30am. A certain amount of people had decided not to travel so a new manifest was required. The plane was then de-iced and we took off at 2.00pm for the short flight over. We eventually made it to the game at 3.25pm at Old Trafford but had missed the first three goals. My problem throughout the whole morning was that we were not told what was happening. Where was the original plane that was scheduled for the 6.30am flight? Whilst the gate staff insisted it wasn’t their fault, whose fault was it? The pilot stated he was scheduled for the 6.30 flight so it wasn’t affected by the threatened pilot’s strike.
It was a lesson in frustration and one which I’ll be very reluctant to risk again with Aer Lingus.