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Irish Voice News
Chaos at JFK for Stranded Passengers
July 4, 2007
By Cahir O’Doherty
HUNDREDS of passengers were left stranded for days in at New York’s Kennedy Airport this week after a new airline service to Knock Airport in the west of Ireland underwent major problems.
Just two months after immense public fanfare greeted the launch of the first transatlantic route to Ireland West Airport Knock in Co. Mayo Flyglobespan, the no frills Scottish-based carrier that flies the route, has become embroiled in a stranded passengers public relations disaster of the first order.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had personally flown to Knock to announce the service, and a major marketing push from the Irish government had followed its introduction.
However, in recent weeks, passenger complaints about the service, including stops in Iceland for unscheduled refueling and hours-long delays at both Kennedy and Knock airports, were proving increasingly common.
Matters came to a head on Thursday, June 28 when 259 passengers bound for Knock were left stranded in John F. Kennedy Airport when flight Y2 202 to Ireland was grounded due to an “engineering problem.”
What followed was a three-day ordeal of hotel stays, unresponsive or missing ground staff, last minute flight cancellations and even returns to the departure gate after taxiing on the runway for several hours.
To compound matters, the scheduled Flyglobespan flight on Sunday July 1 from JFK to Knock was also cancelled, creating yet another long line of distressed and stranded passengers.
Additionally, passengers traveling to the U.S. from Knock had to wait when their Sunday flight did not arrive. As the Irish Voice went to press the Tuesday, July 3 flight to Knock from JFK was also cancelled, according to sources.
Annette Kearney, the marketing director of Ireland West Airport Knock, Knock told the Irish Voice on Monday, “We’ve been working around the clock to facilitate and help the passengers here in Ireland West, Knock. Our latest information from Flyglobespan was that they were sourcing an aircraft to accommodate the passengers in JFK. My understanding is that they are planning to accommodate passengers on a chartered flight or on other flights out of JFK.“
Kearney explained how the stranded passenger situation arouse in Knock. “Yesterday (Sunday) there was a flight due out from us to JFK at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon, and as soon as it became apparent that they could not send an aircraft into us we immediately, using our own resources, got all of these passengers, about 146 of them, accommodated in local hotels with bus transfers and meals tickets.
“We also provided two of our own staff with the passengers to ensure that we had constant communication with them about what was happening.”
Passengers stranded in JFK last Thursday night were not so fortunate. They were left to spend the night in the departure gate without food or water being supplied by the Flyglobespan staff or the airport attendants.
Since the passengers had already cleared the security gate they were also unable to return to the relative comfort of the departure lounge.
“It’s been difficult,” says Kearney. “We were told by Flyglobespan that on Thursday there was a lightning strike that resulted in engine trouble at JFK. The following day they had a technical investigation done and they had even boarded passengers. Then another warning light came on and the plan could not take off.
“After that our latest communication was that on Friday evening they were trying to get a plane positioned from Glasgow Airport (Flyglobespan’s home base) when there was the terrorist incident and the whole place was shut down. That compounded the whole situation. It had a huge knock on effect, unfortunately.”
Working tirelessly for months to first secure the Flyglobespan trans-Atlantic service and then promote the airport and the region, the latest developments were painful to witness for supporters of the airport at Knock.
“It’s extremely disappointing for us considering the amount of effort we put in to getting the service in the first place. The service only started five weeks ago and we’ve brought 6,000 passengers through already,” she said.
“What we are doing on our own behalf is being as proactive as possible. Ninety five percent of our flights are on time here, we have the best record in the country, and we want to get our trans-Atlantic service to the same level.”
Irish Consul General in New York Niall Burgess said the consulate was working to assist the stranded passengers.
“Our main concern was for the Irish citizens. We learned on Monday that the great majority of people decided —after waiting since Thursday not to go ahead with their flight plans or they made their own alternative arrangements,’ Burgess told the Irish Voice.
“But none of them got home on Flyglobespan. The company had another flight scheduled to leave yesterday (Sunday) and that hasn’t left either. We’re told that the intention now is to run that flight on Wednesday. At the moment you have two flights involved. The passengers on the Thursday flight went through an awful ordeal.”
Burgess expressed his concern at the lack of response from Flyglobes-pan. “I’m concerned that we don’t have the kind of contact that you would expect from an air carrier here in New York,” he said.
“Flyglobespan staff weren’t at the check in desks yesterday. Instead the passengers received a fax from an employee of the airport telling them they could apply for a refund, or they could return on Monday morning on a first come first served basis and they would be given seats on another flight on another carrier.
“However the passengers who did return on Monday morning discovered there was no one at the desks. Normally in a situation like this you’d pick up the phone and you’d talk to the airline, but we haven’t got the kind of contact we’d want or expect with Flyglobespan here in New York.”
Adrian Flannelly of Irish Radio Network in New York, who is also the Irish community liaison to Mayor Bloomberg, told the Irish Voice, “What I’d like to really point out is that Ireland West Airport, Knock pursued with the help of Mayor Bloomberg the right to schedule international flights from New York and Boston to Knock. Having acquired those rights all major airlines were approached, and they in turn showed little interest.
“Flyglobespan did express interest, they’re a low cost airline, but clearly it is difficult at this point to make any case for their handling of the current situation. I wouldn’t even attempt to go there. The airline has a legal obligation to honor their bookings.”
Flannelly, a Co. Mayo native and a well-known champion of both Knock airport and the region, added, “I would like to point out that Ireland West Airport, Knock is here to stay. Staff at the airport went way beyond their requirements accommodating people when the difficulties arose.
“Obviously problems on the ground were compounded by the Glasgow incident, however I again say that it would be hard to find an excuse for Flyglobespan’s poor performance in New York. I think that maybe this might give the impetus to come up with a different plan, to reassess the whole situation, and now with open skies, and the tremendous interest that is being shown in that airport that the situation with Flyglobespan will either have to shape up or ship out.
“There are a number of airlines that have shown serious interest in Knock. There is serious light at the end of that tunnel.”
Joe Byrne, the executive vice president of Tourism Ireland told the Irish Voice, “We’re very concerned that a route as valuable as this bringing people from New York and Boston right into the heart of Ireland should so early in its schedule have run into these sort of problems. We regret that passengers have been so upset and inconvenienced.
“There was an unacceptable difficulty on passengers obtaining information about their flights. And we do not want to see a recurrence of that.”
In spite of the recent difficulties, Byrne said Tourism Ireland remained completely committed to promoting the airport and the region.
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