Trapped in nightmare of airport bomb-threat
Portmarnock native Deirdre Rooney who was trapped in the Heathrow Airport chaos.
AS the British Home Secretary was announcing that Britain was under a terror alert and that airports were in virtual ‘lock-down’, a young Portmarnock woman was walking to her job in London and wondering how she would get home to her family and friends in Dublin.
Deirdre Rooney hails from Portmarnock and is a journalist with the Press Association in London.
On the morning of Thursday, August 10, Deirdre was walking from her home in Edgeware Road in London to her office in Victoria and listening to a morning comedy radio show on BBC Radio 1.
She told the Fingal Independent: ‘I was walking into work and was listening to Radio 1 which is more youth-orientated and I was listening to a comedy show which is never really strong on news and they kept breaking into it to inform us that there was a big terrorist plot foiled at Heathrow.
‘I panicked straight away because they were saying they were not taking any more inbound flights, particularly in Heathrow.’
The panic was not out of fear for her safety though what worried Deirdre is that the following day she was due to fly home to Dublin for the weekend and the Thursday’s shock news could mean her flight would be cancelled.
‘I didn’t even think about what they found, I just worried what it meant for my flight. I just hoped it wasn’t cancelled and wondered how I would get home,’ she said.
The trip home was a surprise treat from her boyfriend, John Burke, who was taking Deirdre to see the Dubs, and after a quick phone call home, a day of worry and constant checking of the Aer Lingus website followed.
Deirdre said the Heathrow website was so busy it collapsed under the weight of queries but as the day went on it seemed schedules were beginning to get back to something approaching normality and it looked like her Aer Lingus flight to Dublin the next day would go ahead.
The following day, the young Portmarnock woman took travelling light to a whole new level when she chose not to bring any luggage at all apart from a handful of belongings in a clear plastic bag.
‘I didn’t bring any luggage. I didn’t want the hassle. The only thing that bothered me is that I couldn’t bring my phone or have my MP3 player for the tube ride,’ she said.
A nervous day in work followed, checking and re-checking the flight schedule and learning her flight had been re-scheduled for half an hour later.
Not knowing what to expect at the terminal, Deirdre left work that evening and got to the airport about two-and-a-half hours before her flight was due to take off.
What she found at Heathrow Airport was a terminal that was bursting at the seams with waiting passengers and a few who were getting angry about the long delays.
Deirdre said: ‘The problem was when I got to the airport at 6.30pm for a 9.10pm flight, the queues for Aer Lingus desks literally went down for seven desks and back around again. If you add up the space, it must have been half a mile of people queuing around it was unreal.’
Looking around the terminal, which Deirdre described as ‘packed, absolutely packed, jam packed’, she could see tension beginning to build and some people arguing loudly with officials when they finally made it to the front of their queue.
A heavy police presence was evident at the airport terminal, many of whom were armed, and Deirdre said the security check, particularly the ‘frisking’ was particularly thorough.
Finally, what Deirdre thought would be the most arduous part of the journey was complete and she was sitting on the aircraft and waiting to take off that’s when insult was added to injury.
A captain’s announcement on the aircraft revealed that no less than 90 pieces of luggage were still to arrive on the plane because a luggage conveyor belt had broken down.
The plane sat on the concourse while the bags were located and delivered, which delayed the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin by a further hour, making nervous passengers, even more nervous.
Finally, the flight arrived in Dublin after midnight about two hours late. Deirdre said passengers were processed quite quickly through Dublin Airport but said that if you had checked luggage to collect it would have been ‘mayhem’ because ‘flights were arriving on top of each other’.
Having no baggage to claim it was straight through to the terminal to meet her boyfriend and both were taken aback by how busy Dublin Airport was that night.
As a regular commuter between London and Dublin, Deirdre said she had never seen Heathrow or Dublin Airport so packed.
And so, eight hours after leaving the office in London, Deirdre arrived at her home, near Phibsboro feeling exhausted but glad to be home.
Looking back on the arduous journey she said she ‘never considered not travelling’ and was struck by the atmosphere in London on the day of the terror alert. She said people were not tense or fearful and simply ‘got on with things’.
She said: ‘As it happened, there was a lot of people in the office that were due to fly that weekend and nobody stopped to think how serious it was. People just thought how the hell am I going to get there?’
She added: ‘You don’t think about the worst. You just think it could never happen to you, even though I know it could I wasn’t scared or anything like that at all.’
By the time Deirdre returned to London, two days later, things were beginning to return to normal and as if to emphasise the fact, when she turned up at Dublin Airport early, she was put on an earlier flight and finally made up for some lost time.
Fingal Independent 16/06/2006