Northern Ireland news

Last United Airlines flight from Northern Ireland to US departs from Belfast

Deborah McAleese, Press Association

The last daily direct flight from Northern Ireland to the United States has made its final departure from Belfast International Airport with 150 passengers on board.

United Airlines flight UA76 to New York took off at 12.12pm on Monday, marking an end to the north's only direct US air link.

The flight departed 50 minutes behind schedule following a delay in the arrival of the final inward flight from New York to Belfast, which touched down shortly after 10am with 160 passengers on board.

As passengers arrived at the check-in desks many spoke of their disappointment that the air route - which they saw as a direct link to family and friends - had been stopped.

However, airport managing director Graham Keddie insisted they are working closely with government to deliver a major long-haul project that would "open up attractive additional and badly needed connections."

The US airline announced last year it would stop flights between Belfast and New York.

It said it made the decision because of the route's poor financial performance.

A £9 million rescue deal agreed by Stormont and the airline fell through because the financial package breached EU state rules.

The Ian Knox cartoon that featured in The Irish News in November last year following reports that a £9m rescue package for the United Airlines service had been blocked by the European Commission 

The route between Belfast International Airport and Newark first began in 2005, operated by Continental Airlines.

United took over the operation of the route in 2012 following a merger between it and Continental Airlines.

John and Dorinda Kildea and their young son Corey, who are originally from Northern Ireland, were travelling back to Philadelphia after spending Christmas with family.

"We have lived in Philadelphia for 20 years. We come home two or three times a year and this was the flight we used.

"Our son Corey is two-and-a-half and he has been home on this flight six times," said John.

"It is disruption for us now, it's a blow. I guess we will be looking at the Dublin flight now.

"All our family still live here in Northern Ireland and this was a handy flight because it didn't mean so much driving this side.

"We are due to fly back home again in June, more than likely going to have to go through Dublin," John added.

Haig Dick, originally from Islandmagee in Northern Ireland, said: "I use this flight many times as I have a lot of family here.

"I live in Long Island, New York and would use this flight three or four times a year. It was a direct link to my family.

"I was disappointed to hear this was the last flight.

"It's a bit of inconvenience having to get from Dublin. That adds extra time on to the journey."

Elizabeth Watford, who is originally from Derry but now lives in Virginia, was flying back to the US with her sister Ann Dagenais.

"We usually come back to see our sisters and brothers every two years. This year we came home for Christmas for the first time in 40 years," said Elizabeth.

She added: "I'm going to miss the direct flight. We enjoyed coming into Belfast.

"I'm hoping they will find another direct flight before we come back again. It's sad."

Orlaith Duggan, from Boston, was flying back to the US after visiting family for Christmas.

"My parents are from here and we have a house on the Antrim coast. This is the flight we used growing up to visit my mum's family in Belfast," said Orlaith.

She added: "I only found out a few days ago on the radio that this is the last flight.

"It is really disappointing. I live in Boston now. I was able to just jump on a bus to Newark and fly direct here and it was very handy.

"Growing up, we were here every summer. With no direct flight, going to Dublin it's not the most convenient thing in terms of getting to Belfast from the States.

"And also, flying into London first isn't always convenient because you are just so jet-lagged, especially if you're coming from the west coast (of the US).

"This direct flight made my journey much shorter."

Speaking as the last United Airlines flight departed from Belfast International, Mr Keddie said talks are ongoing in relation to future plans for transatlantic services.

He said the departure of United Airlines was a "big loss for the Northern Ireland access to the US market."

"Over one million people used the service in the 11 and a half years it has been operating.

"We see there is a definite market here. It is disappointing United is leaving," said Mr Keddie.

Passenger growth rates at Belfast International Airport increased by 17.2% last year, with 5.15 million passengers passing through.

December saw a record growth of more than 33% and the airport has achieved monthly double-digit growth since July last year.

This year, passenger numbers are expected to be in the region of 5.4 million.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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