Family fears gran (81) will never fly again after 'nightmare Aer Lingus experience'
It was supposed to be a very happy day for 81-year-old Sheila O'Flynn.
The valiant grandmother, from Galway City, was set to fly off on an exciting family vacation to the exotic island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean.
With daughters based in Singapore and the United States, Sheila is considered a well-seasoned traveller and completes at least two long-haul flights every year to see her children. She has also been on recent trips to China, Burma and Vietnam.
But now, after a "nightmare experience" with Aer Lingus, her family fears she will never fly again.
On Saturday, July 18, Sheila arrived at Dublin Airport at 5.30am ahead of her 7am flight to London Gatwick with Aer Lingus. She was due to meet her son-in-law and grandchildren at Gatwick where they would all fly on to Saint Kitts via British Airways (BA). Shortly after checking in her baggage, Sheila found herself in the middle of massive queues at security.
She started to worry.
Her daughter Kim, who lives in Singapore, told the Sunday Independent that her mother "signalled" to several members of staff to relay her concerns about the time and asked to be taken out of the queue.
"They did nothing. She continued to wait and wait and when she got to security they said her gate was closed and she wasn't going to make the flight," said Kim.
Panicked, upset and flustered, Sheila asked the Aer Lingus desk for help.
They said there was a seat on the next flight to Gatwick but she would have to pay €180. She claims staff showed "no empathy" despite knowing she was elderly woman flying on her own.
She paid for a second flight but claims the airline didn't check her ticket to ensure she'd make her connection at Gatwick.
"I was on to Aer Lingus customer service saying she is on her way right now can you please have wheel chair assistance ready when she lands as she's very upset and won't be able to walk fast to another gate," said Kim.
When she finally landed there was no special assistance, no crew to help, and the gate for her connecting flight was about to close.
Then the distressed pensioner found out her suitcase - full of presents for her grandchildren - was missing.
Two random travellers who sat beside Sheila on the flight from Dublin found her crying and trying to carry her small cases down a staircase.
"I didn't know what to do. My husband had to go because their flight was leaving, I just told her to get to a BA desk about her onward flight.
"I called Aer Lingus in Dublin and said she is stranded - what are you going to do? They told me she would have to pay for another ticket back to Dublin but no seats were available until tomorrow so she'd have to pay for a hotel," said her daughter Kim.
There was no other flight to the Caribbean until the next day either.
When Sheila arrived back in the airport the next morning she was told her missing case had been found but that they couldn't get it to her and would send it on to Saint Kitts.
Although Sheila successfully landed in the Caribbean later that day her suitcase only arrived last Friday.
"The whole week has just been an absolute nightmare. I feel very strongly that the national, state-funded airline have shown atrocious care to an elderly woman. I was afraid she was going to have a heart attack," said Kim.
In response to the debacle, a spokesperson for Aer Lingus said the airline is "not liable for consequential claims when a guest is late for boarding".
"It is recommended that guests allow sufficient time, at least 2-3 hours, to process check-in and security areas which are usually busiest early morning," she said adding special assistance service "does not appear to have been booked on this occasion.
"We are sorry to learn of the difficulties encountered by Mrs O' Flynn and as a gesture of goodwill we are happy to offer a refund of the change fee incurred on the Dublin to Gatwick flight," she said.