European modern pentathlon champion Arthur Lanigan O'Keeffe's preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games suffered a setback after Aer Lingus ejected him from a flight for having fencing equipment.
Irishman O’Keeffe, who took the place of Lukaz Klekot at London 2012 following the Polish athlete testing positive for banned substance Methylhexaneamine, was due to travel to compete in the Birmingham International Fencing Tournament in England as he continues his build-up to this summer's Olympics.
However, he was not allowed to travel on the Aer Lingus flight from Dublin on March 26 despite him having checked in his fencing swords into the hold.
He declared what his luggage was at check-in but cabin crew, on orders of Aer Lingus management, claimed he could still get access to a “dangerous weapon”.
O’Keeffe, who qualified for Rio 2016 at last year’s Modern Pentathlon European Championships in Bath, where he clinched gold, claims he has travelled with Irish carrier Aer Lingus without any issue on several occasions.
“Today I got publicly embarrassed by being kicked off a plane while traveling to a competition that I have carefully targeted as part of my preparation for the Olympic Games,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I dedicate my life to ensure I make my country proud at the Olympics in Rio only to be let down by my National Airline (Aer lingus), I will miss the competition and waste valuable funding that I spent on Flights, & Hotel etc!
“I expected more from Aer Lingus! The reason they gave was because I had fencing equipment (Really?).
“I am hugely disappointed.”
O’Keeffe went on to insist that he didn’t blame the cabin crew for the debacle and, following several negative responses on the social networking site, was forced to clarify why a picture from an earlier post showed him carrying the equipment outside the plane.
“Just to clarify something to everyone my fencing equipment WAS CHECKED IN AND WAS NOT IN MY HAND LUGGAGE,” he wrote.
“The only reason I am holding it is that they took my bag out from the hold and asked me on board to show the pilot the epees.
“People are very quick to make assumptions but forget to use the common sense that I have been traveling the world with this equipment for the last 10 years and know the drill!”
The 24-year-old now looks set to receive a refund after Aer Lingus Regional released a statement today.
“We regret the inconvenience caused to the passenger,” it read.
“However, as set out in the baggage information and guidelines on aerlingus.com, sports weapons cannot be carried on Aer Lingus Regional flights and any such equipment needs to be declared in advance of travel.
"The passenger was offered alternative travel options and a full refund."