NI businessman left £5,000 out of pocket after missing London awards gala when flight is cancelled 'without apologies or explanation'
A businessman has lashed out at airline Flybe after a cancelled flight resulted in him missing a high-profile awards ceremony at a cost of nearly £5,000.
John Toner, who is chief executive of Williams Industrial Services (WIS Group) in Mallusk, Co Antrim, lost out on the chance to collect two awards honouring his firm at the UK-wide Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas (ADB) Industry Awards in Birmingham's NEC.
WIS Group specialises in engineering work in sectors such as waste water treatment, and working on anaerobic digestion plants which produce biogas.
He said he had booked five flights from George Best Belfast City at 3.15pm on Wednesday for himself, two colleagues and two clients at a cost of £1,800.
In addition, he had reserved hotel rooms in Birmingham at £1,800, and a table at the swish awards ceremony costing £1,200.
But instead of savouring WIS Group's moments of glory at the NEC - in a ceremony hosted by broadcaster Charlotte Smith - a former colleague, who happened to be at the event, collected the gongs on his behalf.
The company was named UK and international team of the year and won the trophy for best small-scale AD plant of the year.
Mr Toner said: "I had booked flights for five of us to attend the awards with Flybe, but they cancelled the flight. There was no explanation and no apologies. It was very frustrating."
A spokeswoman for the airline said: "Flybe sincerely regrets the inconvenience to those passengers impacted by the above flight being cancelled due to a technical fault with the aircraft.
"However, the safety of our passengers and crew remains the airline's number one priority at all times.
"Passengers were offered the option of being re-accommodated on the next available flight, or alternatively receiving a full refund and they are also entitled to receive compensation under EU261 regulations."
There was a further delay on the 6pm flight of five minutes and a 25-minute delay on the 6.35 flight - although the 8.30pm flight took off as normal.
It is understood the airline has expedited Mr Toner's compensation claim. The businessman said: "The important thing is we won the awards, though I would have preferred to be there.
"There was a lack of information, I have to say, and no apologies from Flybe, though they were offering us a refund."
He said the company was heavily dependent on the reliability of air links between here and Great Britain, as between 40% and 50% of work is outside Northern Ireland. Earlier this year, Mr Toner was named businessperson of the year in the Aer Lingus Viscount Awards in association with Ulster Business.
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry this week said the business community would be "disappointed" by British Airways cutting the frequency of its daily service from Belfast City Airport to Heathrow from six to four.
The service will be reduced at the end of October, but will be reviewed at the end of March next year.