Investigation underway after passengers removed from Dublin-bound Aer Lingus flight
AN INVESTIGATION is underway into the circumstances in which some passengers were removed from a Dublin-bound flight at a London airport which included former Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Ireland South European Parliament candidate Kieran Hartley.
Two passengers were asked to step off the Airbus aircraft as it was preparing to push back from its gate at Heathrow Airport after a boarding issue emerged - with the Irish politicians and other passengers looking on in bemusement as the duo left the flight and departure was ultimately delayed for over four hours.
It is understood the issue focused on the fact the crew realised the flight manifest details for Aer Lingus Fight EI0177 did not correspond with some of the passengers on board.
Aer Lingus insisted there was no security problem involved.
"There was no security breach. There was a ticketing error," a spokesperson said.
The flight was due to depart London Heathrow at 7.45pm on Thursday night, arriving into Dublin Airport at 9pm.
The gate for the flight closed at 7.20pm.
Heathrow was described as being "absolutely mental" on Thursday night due to heavy Christmas passenger numbers and flight diversions from Gatwick which had been closed due to illegal drone overflights.
However, the Aer Lingus departure was delayed at Heathrow as the flight crew checked the apparent discrepancy in the manifest.
Two passengers were later identified and asked by personnel to get off the plane to clarify the issue.
One eye-witness, a passenger who asked not to be identified, said armed airport police boarded the flight to supervise the security and boarding checks by the flight crew.
"No-one knew what was going on. There was a lot of activity involving security personnel at the front of the plane and then we saw two people talking to the flight crew and the Heathrow police," he said.
Both passengers eventually agreed to get off the flight.
However, both were annoyed at being asked to leave the aircraft and apparently declined to identify the luggage they had brought on board the flight.
The departure was further delayed while a major check was conducted on board to match all baggage with the passengers remaining.
The plane later pushed back from its stand and was preparing for its take-off slot when another piece of unverified luggage was discovered and the plane had to return to a gate at Terminal 2.
Following further security checks, the plane as eventually cleared for take-off at to Dublin 11.30pm.
"We got into Dublin really late. It was manic in Heathrow because of all the passengers who had been diverted there from Gatwick due to the drone problem," he said.
"But I have to pay tribute to the Aer Lingus pilot and the flight crew because they were absolutely fantastic throughout."
"They did their best to keep everyone informed of what was happening and there was complimentary drinks offered to people while we waited to be eventually cleared for take-off."
UK airports do not comment on specific security issues.