Belfast Telegraph

Irate Ulster rugby fans miss big game as pilot a no-show

By Maureen Coleman

Angry Ulster rugby fans missed out on going to a crucial game against Northampton after their flight was cancelled due to a pilot no-show.

The fans were due to travel on a Flybe flight from Belfast City Airport to Gatwick at 8.20am yesterday, giving them plenty of time to get to the Heineken Cup quarter-final in Milton Keynes for 2pm.

While waiting in the departure lounge they were told the flight had been cancelled after the pilot failed to turn up.

The passengers were then offered a later flight at 12.05pm, arriving in Gatwick around 1pm.

But according to one disgruntled fan, Belfast primary school teacher Paul Fitzsimons, that would have been too late.

Paul, who was hoping to attend the match with three others, including his father, said they were all gutted to miss out, watching it instead on television back in Belfast.

“We’re all Ulster season ticket holders and were really looking forward to the game — their biggest game since winning the Heineken Cup in Dublin in 1999,” he said.

“We got to the airport at 7.30am, checked in, went through security and were waiting to get the flight when it came up on the board that it had been delayed. At that stage we thought it would be okay and that we'd still make it in time.

“But then it came up that the flight had been cancelled. When we asked what was going on we were told it was a technical issue, but eventually they told us the pilot hadn't turned up.

“They offered to transfer us to a later flight, getting into Gatwick at 1.15pm, but we would never have made it from the airport to Milton Keynes in time for the game.

“We were told there were 92 people due to fly out and I'd say around 70 of them were going to the game.

“There were a lot of angry people shouting and going mad. Most of us decided it wasn't worth the risk of taking the later flight so we just left.

“One guy had been travelling with 22 tickets for friends in London, which meant none of them were going to get to the match either.”

Paul said Flybe had promised to refund the flight cost of £80, but that fans were still out of pocket. “We had hired a car to drive to Milton Keynes, which cost us £60, and the tickets for the game cost £40 each,” he said.

“This was such an important match too. I was there in Dublin when they won the cup 12 years ago and we were all looking forward to it. We need some answers from Flybe. What happened just wasn't good enough.”

A spokeswoman for Flybe said the airline regretted the “inconvenience and disappointment” caused by the cancellation, which she said was due to “pilot unavailability”.

She said passengers were transferred onto the next flight, which departed at 12.05pm, and that “priority landing” had been organised at Gatwick to avoid further delays.

“Flybe will refund ticket costs to any passengers booked on the cancelled flight who decided not to travel,” she said.

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