Family's Flybe fury as Belfast granny left stranded for being two minutes late at gate
An 80-year-old Belfast grandmother was left stranded at Manchester Airport after Flybe refused to let her board a flight when she turned up two minutes late at the gate, her family have said.
Mary McGearty was reduced to tears by the "heartless and bureaucratic" manner in which the airline treated her, relatives told the Belfast Telegraph.
The Ardoyne grandmother had made the trip to Manchester to visit her 90-year-old brother, who is seriously ill with cancer, and her 85-year-old sister whom she hasn't seen in a decade.
Mary's grandson Chris Hughes said: "Granny came to the gate just as staff were closing it but they refused to let her through. She wasn't critically late - it was only two minutes - but they wouldn't allow her onto the flight on Sunday night.
"She was late through no fault of her own - there had been delays at security. She isn't in the best of health herself and she is a slow walker so she couldn't make up the time. There was ample time to the flight's take-off but the lady at the gate wouldn't listen.
"Then Flybe staff in both Manchester and Belfast City airports wouldn't book granny onto the next and last flight back to Belfast. She was left stranded in the airport. Our family is disgusted with Flybe. We will never fly with that airline again."
A Flybe spokeswoman last night said: "Flybe regrets the upset and inconvenience caused to Mrs McGearty and her family. We have initiated a full investigation to determine what happened and why."
She added that the airline's customer services department had been in touch with the family.
Mr Hughes said his family had arranged the trip for their grandmother because they believed it was the last chance she would ever get to spend time with her brother and sister.
Her family had moved from Belfast to Manchester when she was a child but Mrs McGearty had returned and reared her family in her native city.
Her daughter, Charlotte, and her granddaughter, Michaela, accompanied her on the trip.
"It was a beautiful, emotional occasion when granny was reunited with her brother and sister after so many years.
"There were a lot of tears and laughter. But it all went sour on the journey home," Mr Hughes said.
The family checked in at the Flybe desk at Manchester Airport 90 minutes before their flight, BE486, was due to depart at 6.45pm, but were delayed by queues going through security.
"They set off straight for the gate when they got through security but granny is a slow walker. My family explained the reason for the delay to the lady who was closing the gate," Mr Hughes said.
"She could see granny, she could see it was genuine - that it wasn't a case of people late because they were, say, drinking at the bar - but she would make no allowances. My family aren't the type to complain so they accepted the situation."
Mr Hughes said his family then went to the Flybe customer services desk in the airport and asked to be booked onto the last flight to Belfast at 8.20pm. But he claimed the woman on the desk told them she "wasn't trained" to book flights and there was no one on duty who could help.
"At this stage, granny was in tears. She just wanted to go home. My mum phoned home and, in desperation, my dad drove down to Belfast City Airport and went to the Flybe desk there and said he wanted to book a flight for his family back to Belfast.
"The lady on the desk there said she couldn't do that because all travelling parties would have to be standing before her with ID.
"My dad explained that Flybe were leaving an 80-year old woman and her family stranded overnight in Manchester Airport but the airline wouldn't budge."
The family were forced to find overnight accommodation. They flew out of Liverpool yesterday to avoid using Flybe.
Mr Hughes said: "I judge any organisation by how it treats old people and children. Flybe has failed abysmally. I travel a lot with work but I don't care if they offer the cheapest flight on any route - I will never fly with them again."