Belfast Telegraph

Frustration as only direct New York flight finally grounded

By Rachel Martin

Passengers have spoken of their disappointment and frustration as the final transatlantic route took off from Belfast International Airport yesterday.

It follows the decision by United Airlines in November to scrap the US route after a deal to subsidise it by £9m was found to breach EU State Aid rules.

The airline made its final flight from Belfast to Newark in New Jersey- Northern Ireland's only direct US route - yesterday after more than 11 years flying from the province.

Some travellers said their trips to Northern Ireland had been cut short as their flights were rescheduled.

Carmel O'Kane came here on December 19 and had planned to stay in Northern Ireland for an extra week. She left her native Dungiven in 1972 to work as a nurse in Chicago and decided to stay in America.

She said: "We were supposed to come back later but United Airlines called me and said I could either have a refund or get out on the last flight, and I said, 'What do you mean the last flight?' And they told me about what happened."

Eimear Reddin from Donegal uses the flight to get to university in Virginia and flies from Newark to Raleigh.

She studies in the US on a football scholarship.

Her dad Don Reddin said: "People talk about north and south, here but the geography is that we're closer to Belfast. It's an hour and a half to Belfast - it's three and a half, maybe more - to Dublin.

"Eimear was supposed to fly back to Belfast in May but it was only after I booked the flight that the news came out so she'll come back to Dublin instead - it's Belfast which is at a loss."

Alex and Emma Fleck moved to Pennsylvania four years ago when Emma secured a job as a professor in entrepreneurship.

The couple, originally from Randalstown, were travelling with their sons Patrick (5) and Harrison (4).

Emma said: "It's really devastating - Northern Ireland is a really amazing place - it has a great economy and tourism offering and the whole Game of Thrones movement is really exciting and this is the only flight which takes US tourists directly into Belfast.

"To get tourists - especially American tourists to come north is very difficult - most people just think of Dublin but there's so much to see here and it's such a shame."

Belfast International Airport managing director Graham Keddie said he was "close" to striking a deal with a new carrier to reinstate the route.

However, he added that extra funding was "necessary" to sustain the long haul route.

"We are in deep discussions with several clients," he said.

"However, there's still a little bit of work to do - but carriers know just how busy this place is and just how popular this route was and it's an easy win for the carrier which comes in. Last year this route ran at 85% capacity.

"It is not a big loss for us but it's big for Northern Ireland to be losing its transatlantic link."

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the news was "deeply regrettable".

He said: "Along with the International Airport, the Executive agreed a package of financial support last summer that was aimed at maintaining this important business and tourism route. Unfortunately, that offer of assistance was thwarted by Brussels bureaucrats.

"I continue to work to explore other possible air routes to North America and I am pleased that we have been working together on some options."

Belfast Telegraph


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