Flight staff advised of passenger delay rule

Derrick and Betty McCourt
Derrick and Betty McCourt
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AIRPORT staff were warned that flights would no longer be delayed for disabled passengers to be helped on board weeks before a flight left with six people sitting at the gate.

A probe into the incident involving an easyJet flight to Belfast on Saturday is under way and is expected to conclude this week.

It has now emerged that weeks before the flight an easyJet boss had sent an e-mail to key personnel – including baggage handlers Menzies and THS Scotland, a company contracted to help people with restricted mobility board the plane – advising that disabled passengers requiring assistance “will be refused travel and bags off-loaded if not at the gate and ready to board” in good time.

A follow-up e-mail from a Menzies Aviation manager to company staff laid blame at THS Scotland for delaying flights and urged workers to “show THS that we will no longer tolerate them arriving late . . . and delaying our departure”.

But sources say THS was not at fault for Saturday’s blunder, claiming that it was being forced to cope with a huge increase in the number of flights and had met the stipulations of its contract.

Record numbers passed through Edinburgh Airport last month, with nearly one million people using the terminal.

On Monday, the News told how six disabled passengers, including Ballymena couple Derrick and Betty McCourt, were stranded at the terminal of Edinburgh Airport despite arriving early for their flight to Belfast.

EasyJet said the decision to unload their luggage was taken because the “necessary assistance was unavailable at time of boarding”, an accusation denied by sources.

An Edinburgh Airport spokesman said the six passengers “did not receive [the] normal service levels” and that they were investigating to ensure it did not happen again.

A source within the aviation industry said the new directive for THS Scotland and disabled passengers had been causing “concern” as it was “likely to mean far more passengers not making their flights”.

They added: “The couple on Saturday were there in plenty of time, but because there was no-one there to take them to the flight, for whatever reason, they were left behind.”

Dale Rabét, owner of THS Scotland, said he was “very disappointed” by the recent incident and vowed he would “personally investigate what went wrong”, while Menzies Aviation said it was an “unfortunate event” and the company would always “strive to do better”.

“Everybody at the airport have to work in partnership and we all just do our best to make the passenger experience as good as possible,” he added.

An easyJet spokesman said: “We are working very closely with the airport to find out what happened in this case. For us it’s about making travel easy and when things go wrong we are very concerned.”