Extra staff were brought in....food outlets were opened....bottled water and blankets were distributed.... as the airport moved into response mode to deal with a diverted United flight en route from Rome to Chicago.
The drama started at teatime on Saturday when the aircraft, with 283 passengers, diverted because of a disruptive passenger.
The plane landed and the passenger was taken off by BIA Constabulary, but that was only the start of the story.
The crew went ‘out of hours’ which meant a prompt turnaround wasn’t possible. Practical measures were then put in place to minimise discomfort and make the unexpected visitors to Northern Ireland as comfortable as possible in the Terminal building.
Rod Haskins, Airport Operations and Security Manager, said the airport and partner organisations were acutely aware of the ordeal passengers had experienced and were determined to do all they could for them.
Information updates were provided as soon as they became available. The airport opened Rooms 3 and 5 for families and passengers who wanted quieter areas. Waiting times were minimised with the help of Border Force, and new Boarding Passes were issued to enable passengers to return to Airside food and beverage outlets.
Rod added: “We called in additional staff to assist, and they created the nearest thing to a home-from-home for the passengers who might otherwise have been distraught and upset.
“It was absolutely remarkable how calm, understanding, grateful and gracious the passengers were.
“On a lighter note we heard of one lady who headed into Belfast to make use of this unexpected opportunity to see the sights. I’m also told a family headed to Belfast Castle for tea. There have been some very positive comments about Northern Ireland and what we did on their behalf.”
Airport Managing Director, Graham Keddie, had this to say: “Through no fault of their own, 282 passengers bound for Chicago found themselves spending 23 hours at our airport. The response from our staff and partner organisations was both sensitive and professional, and I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to one and all for a job well done.”
Flight UA2107 departed at 5:50pm Sunday afternoon, minus one male passenger, aged 42, who was charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft; disruptive behaviour on board an aircraft and common assault.