A quarter-of-a-million travellers are expected through Belfast’s airports over the holiday season as people stream home from all corners of the globe for a traditional Ulster Christmas.
However, last night a Met Office amber weather warning was in place, with air travel, roads and electricity power supplies affected.
Stena Line has also announced that the first sailing today won’t be until 3.30pm.
A spokeswoman for the ferry company said the situation would be kept under review and could change. Passengers are being advised to keep in touch with Ferrycheck on 08705 755 755, Stena Line on 08447 707070, or at www.stenaline.co.uk for the latest information.
One of those determined to have a family reunion – whatever the weather – was Judith Crawford who flew into Belfast City Airport from Exeter. There to greet her was mum Rosemary Fee who is looking forward to having the grandchildren over Christmas week.
Judith has been living in Devon for 10 years but said she still calls Portadown home.
“We have lived away since university, about 10-plus years, and Devon is lovely but it’s always nice to come home. Northern Ireland is still home,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Belfast International Airport said some 11,000 people were expected through the facility yesterday, enjoying festive carol singers as they went.
Other travellers were heading off to more exotic climes for their festivities. Over the entire holiday period some 150,000 passengers are expected through the airport’s doors.
Managing director John Doran said: “Christmas is one of our busiest times and we are expecting around 60,000 passengers to use the airport in the few days before Christmas alone.”
George Best Belfast City Airport estimated it would help transport over 100,000 passengers over the holiday period.
Chief executive Brian Ambrose said: “Christmas is certainly the busiest time of the year and the atmosphere in the terminal is always fantastic with choirs from our adopted schools performing carols and extra staff on board to ensure the smoothest of journeys for all our passengers.”
He added: “As Northern Ireland’s sole link with London Heathrow, this route has been particularly strong and will no doubt continue throughout the festive period.”
A Met Office spokesman said: “A spell of very strong winds will affect Northern Ireland through Tuesday morning. Gusts of 60-70 mph are expected inland with 80 mph gusts possible along the north coast and over high ground.
“The public should be prepared for disruption, particularly to travel, and interruptions to power supplies.”
A spokesperson for Belfast International Airport said last night: “The UK is bracing itself for some severe weather over the next 24 hours with strong winds and heavy rain forecast.
“All flights are currently running to schedule but delays should be anticipated as the weather, particularly in south east England and over the northern half of the UK, takes hold today. Anyone who is due to travel should check the status of their flight with their airline.”
But there were many anxious travellers. Dr Claire Lowry, a London-based dermatologist who is originally from Bangor, said from Gatwick Airport at 9pm last night: “We were delayed 90 minutes and for a while didn’t know what was happening.”
NI Electricity has arranged for its local incident centres to open from early today with emergency crews on standby to deal with storm damage.
Members of the public have been warned to stay away from any fallen electricity lines and to contact the NIE customer helpline on 08457 643 643, or to report the fault online at nie.co.uk, if they lose supply.