Flying home for Christmas: Emotional reunions at Northern Ireland airports
It's the annual homecoming that marks the beginning of Christmas for many families.
Over 200,000 air travellers - most of them visiting family and friends here - were estimated to arrive into Northern Ireland's two main airports in time for the festive holiday.
Yesterday was one of the busiest days of the year for both Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City airports as they coped with the seasonal upturn in demand for flights back home.
Belfast International estimated that it would receive 150,000 passengers in the run-up to the holiday break.
It handled 40,000 arriving passengers in 300 flights last Friday, Sunday and Monday while there were 9,000 to 10,000 passengers each day arriving into the busy City Airport.
Both airports pulled out the stops to welcome passengers home over the last few with an abundance of Christmas decorations, choir performances and different festive activities.
Graham Keddie, Belfast International airport managing director, said: "The airport is part of the community and it's up to us to show the tens of thousands of people who visit the terminal that we share in the joy of reunion.
"We've gone all out to create the right atmosphere for our passengers. When they come off their flight and into arrivals, we want each and every one of them to know that the festive fun starts right there."
He added: "This airport is proud of the role it performs at Christmas.
"People want to get back home with the minimum of fuss and without delay."
Katy Best, commercial and marketing director at George Best Belfast City Airport, said they the airport had worked hard to make the return home a smooth one.
She added: "It's so lovely to see the happy faces of our passengers as they arrive off their flights to be met by loved ones eagerly awaiting their arrival."
‘It’s first time she’s been away for long’
Hannah Caldwell (19) got a very public sign that her family really missed her when her sister Ruthie (17) made a welcome home poster.
She had just flown in from Leeds Bradford to George Best Belfast City Airport where she was greeted by mum Sharon along with 14-year-old brother Kirk.
Mrs Caldwell from Templepatrick, Co Antrim, said: “I haven’t seen her since September as she’s working on her gap year.
“This is the first time she’s ever been away from home that long.”
‘We’re delighted grandson can join us for Santa coming’
Joshua Jackson is definitely going to get a visit from Santa Claus if his devoted grandparents Derek and Patricia Jackson have anything to do with it.
The three-year-old was welcomed home for Christmas along with his parents Derek and Louisa. The family had arrived to Belfast City Airport from Heathrow to stay at the family home in Hillsborough, Co Down.
Mrs Jackson said: “We are delighted that they are here with us for the next week. We just intend to enjoy ourselves.”
‘It’s two years since my last festive visit’
Newry woman Ruth Chambers got a warm surprise when she and her partner Gavin Moore arrived into Belfast International Airport yesterday from Manchester. She was only expecting her brother-in-law Lee to pick them up but her sister Sera McDaid was there with her son Riley (4), and other sister Rachael and mum Martina jumped out to welcome her. “I haven’t been home for Christmas for two years and I’ll be spending the next week in Ballymoney and Newry,” said Ruth.
‘It’s great to have mum here for holidays’
Sisters Poppy (6) and Elsie (3) Shaw from Dundonald donned Santa hats to welcome granny Marilyn to her first Christmas spent in Northern Ireland.
They were there with their parents Steve and Jean at Belfast International Airport to meet the flight from London.
Steve, who has been living here for 14 years, said: “We haven’t seen Mum since July so it will be great to have her here for the first time over Christmas and we’ll be doing all the normal things over the time.”
‘We will relax and unwind for a few days’
It will be the first Christmas spent with her grandparents for little Alexandra Shiels.
The gorgeous tot from Twickenham, London, and her big brother Jack (5) will be staying with family in Magherafelt, Co Londonderry.
Jack was scooped up in grandfather James Shiels’ arms as he welcomed home his son Paul and daughter-in-law Philippa when he met them at Belfast City Airport yesterday.
“We plan to relax and unwind for the next few days,” added Paul.
“It’s really good to be home,”
‘We will be spending 10 days with family’
Little Thomas Fetherston still had plenty of energy left when he and his family arrived into Belfast International from Bristol yesterday.
The family — parents Gabi and Chris with their three sons Thomas (4), Nicholas (2) and four-month-old Luke — travelled back from Winchester to be with grandparents Ralph and Michele Fetherston. “We will be spending the next 10 days with my parents-in-law in Belfast just visiting family and friends and also catching up with other friends from Southampton who are also staying here,” said Gabi.
‘It’s so great to see my boy again’
Belfast woman Marian McLoughlin cried tears of unadulterated joy when she welcomed her son back on home soil for the first time in three years.
Sean McLoughlin had flown just over 10,600 miles from Sydney to Belfast City Airport to spend Christmas and new year with his family in north Belfast.
“I’ve been up from 8am today with the excitement of it all, it’s just brilliant that he’s home,” Mrs McLoughlin said as she wiped tears from her eyes.
‘We’ve spent last 10 years in Sydney’
Gemma McGuigan arrived back to spend Christmas in Northern Ireland for the first time in 10 years She was warmly welcomed home by her mother Anne along with her two sons Sunny (4) and Bowie Ludlow (2), while her partner Tim Ludlow collected the luggage.
“While we have just flown in from London, we have spent the last 10 years living in Sydney so it’s great to be back in Ballymoney for the next 10 days after so long,” said Gemma.