Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Flight delays hit school trip travel plans

By Diarmúid Pepper

Flight cancellations are enough to ruin any trip, particularly one involving many school children. However, that exact scenario did little to dampen the spirits of Year 10 students from St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook, during their recent school trip to Barcelona.  Indeed, as Principal Jarlath Burns pointed out, it merely “added to the excitement and to the fascination of the trip” for the children.

Dozens of pupils had travelled on the planned four-day trip to Barcelona, having left early on Monday morning, with one group due to fly back to Dublin airport and the other to Belfast. Scheduled to return on Thursday, both flights were cancelled at the eleventh hour however, forcing the school to seek emergency alternatives from the school travel company NST. Protracted discussions resulted in one group spending the night in the airport before flying to Belfast on Friday.  The second group had to spend two unscheduled extra nights, however, and were transferred to a hotel in Girona to await a Saturday morning flight, which would take them to Knock airport, followed by a bus journey of up to 4 hours to finally get home.

As it became clear that the students would not be returning home as planned on Thursday, the St Paul’s Facebook feed was active throughout the evening and night in order to reassure stressed out parents that their children were fine and in good hands. One parent even commented: “Thank you to all for the updates and just to reassure you, the kids are delighted.”  While another parent said: “We appreciate the updates and have no doubt that everyone is safe and cared for, thank you to all involved and see you home soon from a fantastic trip!”

Speaking to the Examiner on Friday afternoon, Mr Burns said of the delay: “This is not a nightmare or a tragedy. It is just an inconvenience that we know can happen to any traveller at an airport. Things happened which were beyond our control.

“We don’t blame EasyJet or Ryanair or NST, who were the company who organised the trip for us. We would pay tribute to Ryanair in particular because they sent one of our groups to Girona and they put them up in a 5 star all inclusive hotel which has really just added to the excitement and to the fascination of the trip for the children. They are having an extra day free from Ryanair and we appreciate that.”

Indeed, the children who were awarded the extra day in Girona spent Friday afternoon making the most of the waterpark at their new hotel.

However, the other group weren’t just as lucky, though they were seen on Facebook playing football in the airport, and they clearly didn’t let the cancellation get them down.

“EasyJet weren’t able to do as much for the other group who were going to Belfast. They could only offer a hotel stay in Salou, which would have meant going to Salou and coming straight back again because of the distance from Barcelona. So they decided to stay in the airport and they are actually back in Ireland now,” Mr Burns added.

All in all, the staff and pupils – particularly those who ended up in Girona – were more than able to make the most of a bad situation, and he believes that it is a tale which will provide wry smiles in time to come.

He said: “So it is an inconvenience, but it is something that we will look back on whenever we get everybody home safe and we will be able to chuckle at it. It is not ideal, but we are not here to blame anybody, there were just circumstances which were beyond our control.”