Thousands of British holidaymakers again faced chaos at UK airports today as easyJet cancelled dozens more flights, while other families stranded in Europe were scrambling to find alternative ways of getting home.
Travellers crossed borders instead of waiting for later flights as they raced to return to work and school after half-term, with many spending hundreds of pounds for new flights or other modes of transport such as Eurostar trains.
Among them were teachers needing to get back to the classroom and A-level pupils who risk missing exams after easyJet cancelled more than 300 flights across Europe in the past three days, with more than 2,000 delayed.
EasyJet cancelled 27 flights today, including 22 at Gatwick and seven at Luton. The Gatwick departures were flights to Amsterdam, Luqa, Rijeka, Copenhagen, Bastia, Nantes, Milan and Bordeaux – and the arrivals were from Gran Canaria, Pafos, Lanzarote, Kos, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rijeka, Luqa, Bastia, Nantes, Bordeaux and Milan.
Wizz Air also cancelled two arrivals at Gatwick from Tel Aviv and Faro. At Luton, there were three easyJet arrivals cancelled from Amsterdam, Lisbon and Palermo; and four departures to Bristol, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Palermo.
Some 124 British Airways flights at London Heathrow Airport were cancelled today, although the airline stressed that affected passengers were given plenty of advance notice with these services all axed a few months ago.
UK airline passengers have been hit by disruption for several months due to a lack of staff after the companies let thousands of people go during the pandemic. Airlines, airports and ground handling firms are now struggling to recruit new staff and have their security checks processed amid a surge in demand since restrictions were lifted.
BRISTOL AIRPORT: Huge queues once again this morning at Bristol Airport which has been badly hit by the airport chaos
MANCHESTER AIRPORT: Large queues at Manchester Airport this morning as the airport chaos continues to affect tourists
EasyJet said last night that it will continue to axe at least 30 flights a day with passengers set to typically receive just three days’ notice.
Dozens of the cancellations were made at the last minute and affected customers said they were not being offered alternative flights home for several days.
Family are ‘left to fend for themselves’… with a £1,000 bill to get home
Jenny O’Hara and her partner should have been back at work yesterday and their three sons at primary school.
Instead, they faced being stuck in the Canary Islands for another week after easyJet suddenly cancelled their return flight and left them struggling to find somewhere to stay on the busy resort.
Jenny O’Hara and her partner Tom with sons Harrison, Rupert and Elyott who are now stuck in the Canary Islands
Miss O’Hara, a project manager from Crowborough, East Sussex, flew to Fuerteventura last Monday for a five-day Tui holiday along with sons Elyott, 11, and Rupert, eight, plus partner Tom Nowell, 37, a marketing manager, and his son Harrison, nine.
But when they arrived at the airport on Saturday for their flight home, they were shocked to see it displayed as cancelled.
Airline staff arranged for one night’s accommodation and told them the next available tickets would be on Friday – meaning they would miss a whole week of work and school. She said: ‘It’s been a nightmare end to the holiday. We feel like easyJet have abandoned us. I can’t believe how we’ve been left to fend for ourselves like this.’
Determined to get home sooner, they booked a new flight from Lanzarote scheduled for tomorrow – leaving them out of pocket by more than £1,000 as they also had to pay for another three nights’ accommodation plus the ferry transfer.
Tui said it had not been made aware of the cancellation by easyJet and the airline apologised for the incident.
This is despite them having the right to be booked on an alternative flight as close to their original departure time as possible – even if it is with a rival airline. They are also entitled to food and hotel expenses.
But easyJet customers said it was near impossible to contact customer services in search of answers.
Budget airline Wizz Air also made dozens of cancellations over the weekend.
British Airways axed more than 100 short-haul flights at Heathrow yesterday, although it stressed that affected passengers were informed several weeks in advance.
Holiday firm Tui is cancelling six daily flights at Manchester until the end of the month.
The aviation industry is struggling to cope with the post-pandemic rise in demand for foreign travel at a time of severe staff shortages.
Some operators were accused of letting passengers make bookings that could not be fulfilled.
Father-of-four Joe Murray, from Milton Keynes, booked return flights to Tenerife which were due to land back in the UK tomorrow in time for Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
But his family missed the four-day weekend after Wizz Air cancelled their return flight twice.
Mr Murray, who has four young daughters, said: ‘The curriculum is packed and losing three days from school post-Covid isn’t good. There isn’t time to really catch up.
‘Wizz Air have had since last Wednesday to get us home, have cancelled once while we had checked in and were waiting at the gate, and the other four hours before the flight. It’s not good enough.’
Kelly, a teacher from Lincolnshire, and her husband, who is also a teacher, had their flight home from Montenegro with easyJet cancelled at the last minute on Saturday.
They were told Thursday was the earliest they could get back to the UK. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘They told us we could have a flight on Thursday.
‘But obviously we’re teachers so we’re very keen to get back to school so there’s less disruption for the children, which is why we’re travelling to a different country [to try to get home sooner].
‘We will have had three bus journeys of about 12 hours in total. Fingers crossed tomorrow easyJet won’t cancel our flight for a second time and we’ll manage to get home.
‘But we’re having to fly into Bristol rather than Gatwick, we’ve then got to get to Gatwick [to collect our car] and then back home to Lincoln.’
A blame game broke out between ministers and the industry over the fiasco last week.
Aviation chiefs sought to point the finger at the Government for not giving enough notice when lifting all Covid travel restrictions in March.
BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Huge queues for security at Birmingham Airport at 5am this morning as the airport chaos continues
GATWICK AIRPORT: Huge queues for check-in on Ryanair flights at London Gatwick Airport this morning
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused carriers of ‘poor planning and overbooking flights that they cannot service’.
Couple whose easyJet flight from Berlin to Luton was cancelled drove through the night after borrowing relative’s car
After Clare and Christian Engelke’s flight home from Berlin to London Luton was cancelled, the couple resorted to borrowing a car and driving through the night to get to work by lunchtime.
When easyJet informed them in a text message on Sunday lunchtime that their 10.55pm flight had been cancelled, there were no alternative flights available until tomorrow.
Clare and Christian Engelke, pictured on holiday in Berlin
Needing to get back to work and pick up their 15-year-old daughter – who had been staying with relatives – from school on their return to Codsall near Wolverhampton yesterday, they embarked on an 850-mile overnight dash.
They had to spend £180 on fuel and £178 on the Eurotunnel, and also then had to pick up their car in Luton after paying £10 to extend the parking.
In addition, the couple – who only flew out on Friday to visit friends – still have the car borrowed from company director Mr Engelke’s German parents.
Mrs Engelke, a freelance marketing consultant, said the volume of cancellations had been ‘crazy’.
‘We are lucky we have mobile phones and used our initiative to call on lovely friends who we met in Berlin – seeing them for the first time in three years due to the pandemic – and family in Germany who have lent us a car to get us home,’ she said. ‘We now have a German car in England that we have to take back eventually.’
There are fears of even worse chaos when the peak summer season begins in around six weeks’ time.
Ministers are considering plans to force airlines to give automatic refunds for travel disruption.
Affected travellers, who must apply for compensation manually, have reported waiting several weeks to receive money back.
Some operators have claimed cancellations or delays are not their fault, meaning they are not liable.
Travel consultancy The PC Agency estimated that at least 15,000 passengers were affected by ‘last-minute changes’ to flights on Sunday.
Chief executive Paul Charles said this caused ‘major knock-on effects’ and ‘it will take three days to clear the backlog’.
He said: ‘We’re now seeing the impact of the weekend’s cancellations with knock-on effects for tens of thousands of travellers.
‘So many flights were never rescheduled after the pandemic, so there often isn’t the frequency of flights to get passengers back quickly if they are affected.
‘We’re going to see a large number of compensation claims from those stuck abroad.
‘Sadly it can take three days to get flights back to normal and get people back.’
Downing Street said ministers and officials had been meeting with aviation industry leaders and Border Force to increase ‘resilience for the sector throughout the summer’ to avert further travel chaos.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was ultimately down to the aviation industry to address staff shortages.
He added: ‘We fully understand that the aviation industry – like many others – has faced significant challenges during the pandemic.
‘But ultimately they are responsible for making sure they have enough staff to meet demand and we have been clear they must step up recruitment to make sure disruption is kept to a minimum.’
Meanwhile, passengers at Gatwick were left frustrated yesterday when dozens of flights were cancelled.
Departures to Tel Aviv in Israel, Krakow in Poland, Malaga in Spain, and Sicily in Italy were among those affected as the aviation sector continues to be hit by staff shortages.
The late cancellation of the Wizz Air flight to Sicily sparked anger, with security staff stepping in after one man became agitated and started shouting at staff.
Rosie, 28, who did not give her surname, was booked on the flight with her husband and their two children, aged two and 18 months, to visit her husband’s relatives on the Italian island.
The family, from Bognor Regis, West Sussex, were at the departure gate when they were informed the flight had been cancelled.
Rosie said: ‘His family haven’t met our two children yet – because of Covid we haven’t been able to get out there, and I’ve been pregnant so haven’t been able to go. We wanted them to go and meet his family.
MANCHESTER AIRPORT: Huge queues at Manchester Airport Terminal One this morning as the airport chaos continues
BRISTOL AIRPORT: People wait to check-in at Bristol Airport this morning amid huge queues once again today
‘The whole time we were told our flight was running on time, we then got told our flight was delayed by an hour. We then came to the gate, we all got ushered into the gate group to be told the flight was cancelled.’
Hopeful travellers still queue for passports
Desperate holidaymakers branded the UK passport system a ‘shambles’ yesterday as they queued in the rain for travel documents.
Around 100 people were waiting outside the passport office in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, before doors opened at 8am.
Some became involved in heated exchanges with officials who went along the queue asking questions and explaining that only those travelling within the next 48 hours would be seen.
People queue at the Peterborough passport office in May (file)
Among those left disappointed – and likely to miss out on her £2,000 holiday to Greece – was Sophie Gregory, 20. The NHS radiologist, who is supposed to be travelling on Sunday, was denied an appointment despite driving for four hours from Wigan, Greater Manchester.
‘The system doesn’t work. We pay for this and nothing is working because people can’t get passports,’ she said. ‘You can’t get an appointment online and there’s no one to speak to. We might have to risk it at the airport.’
David Kolodynski, from Nottingham, was hoping to get a passport for his ten-year-old son before their £3,000 holiday to Egypt tomorrow. However, he was told that his application wouldn’t be considered as it was made less than six weeks ago.
The housing officer said: ‘This is a shambles. The system is broken. They need to get more staff and more money in.’
A Home Office spokesman said that 90 per cent of passport applications have been completed within six weeks.
She went on: ‘There has been no communication, we’re only getting told now by Wizz Air that our flight’s been cancelled, and it was already meant to be up in the air.’
The couple previously booked trips to Sicily with other airlines, including easyJet, but those flights were also cancelled.
Kevin Wood, 51, from Hampshire, was due to travel on the Wizz Air flight with his wife, Emma. Mr Wood said there had been ‘no help at all’ from the airline.
‘We were hoping, since the holiday weekend was finished, that things perhaps have calmed down a bit, but clearly not,’ he said.
The couple were given a number to call for further support, which they said ‘didn’t seem to work’.
Wizz Air said in a statement: ‘We are so sorry that too many of our passengers are being subjected to current delays and, in some cases, cancellations.
‘Across the travel industry Wizz Air and every airline is doing as much as we all can to help as many passengers as possible reach their destinations in time and with minimal delay.
‘However, amongst other issues causing operational instability throughout the travel industry, there is a widespread shortage in staff, in particular within air traffic control, ground operations and baggage handling, security and across airports.
‘Wizz Air has increased direct communications with all our customers through text, email and phone calls to ensure – as much as possible – that they are best informed of any changes in our services.’
The airline said affected passengers are being offered ‘a range of options’ including alternative flights with Wizz Air, a full refund or 120 per cent in credit to use on a future Wizz Air booking.
Under UK consumer law, if an airline cancels a flight it must offer to rebook passengers on a route that will get them to their final destination as close to their planned arrival time as possible, even if that is with a different carrier.
Elsewhere, Matt Wheeler, 37, a train driver from Nottingham, said he and his partner had to make emergency childcare arrangements after finding out their easyJet flight home from Amsterdam had been cancelled yesterday morning.
‘It’s a farce… didn’t know about the cancellation until we arrived at the airport at 3.30am, no easyJet staff or any staff that could help us,’ Mr Wheeler said.
‘We now have to try and arrange family members to pick our kids up from school/childminders this afternoon and then have them overnight and take them to school tomorrow.
‘They’ll have to take time off work (and) we will now miss a day’s work tomorrow as we won’t be home.’
Mr Wheeler said they have been put in a hotel and booked onto a Tuesday morning flight, but added ‘it’s the lack of communication and no one at the airport to speak to that’s annoying – and the fact this could happen again tomorrow.’
STANSTED AIRPORT: This picture of queues for fast track security at Stansted Airport was tweeted this morning
BRISTOL AIRPORT: People sleep on benches in a cafe at Bristol Airport this morning amid further huge queues
Also yesterday, a traveller at London’s Stansted Airport has said he had to queue for two hours in the afternoon to get through passport control.
Tube chaos continues today as commuters face ANOTHER gruelling journey to work as militant union shuts down London Underground for start of rush hour
Commuters endured another gruelling journey to work across London this morning as some 4,000 Tube workers continued their strike until 8am – with services likely to be affected for much of the day as they try to recover.
Fed-up Londoners will have to take much longer routes by bus or splash out on taxis and Ubers, likely adding to the capital’s traffic and pollution levels.
People at bus stop in London yesterday during the Tube strike
The strike action has been ordered by the militant Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) due to an ongoing dispute over jobs and pensions.
They believe up to 600 jobs and their pension scheme are under threat from a cash-strapped Transport for London (TfL), which a union leader yesterday claimed is ‘bankrupt’ and in need of £500m by March next year.
The RMT is also expected to reveal its dates for national railway walkouts today, which threaten to see Network Rail forced to operate on a skeleton timetable this summer to reserve tracks for the movement of goods – with passengers only having access to key services.
Charles Levenson, a 25-year-old teacher from north London, was travelling home from Berlin, Germany, when he was caught in the disruption.
‘When I got there the queue was chaotic and (a complete) standstill,’ he said. ‘Nowhere near enough queue barriers had been set up so everyone was starting to squish together and it was very hot.
‘Tannoy announced they’re sorry for inconvenience and the crowd actually erupted in sarcastic laughter.’
Georgie Calle, 29, from St Albans in Hertfordshire, had her plans to see her unwell grandfather yesterday thrown into disarray after running into difficulties with an easyJet flight from Dalaman Airport in Turkey.
Having paid around £900 for their flights, Ms Calle said she and her partner were told their Sunday journey – a 10.40pm trip to London Luton – had been overbooked, at which point they were made to wait in the airport to see if a seat became available.
The flight was eventually rescheduled for Monday, something Ms Calle was unaware of overnight – the pair slept at the airport instead.
‘We were made to feel like we weren’t as valued as the people who had somehow magically got onto the flight,’ she said yesterday. ‘I’ve had 20 minutes’ sleep in the last 24 hours, my partner’s had 10 minutes’ sleep.
‘Never had a problem with easyJet before and actually you feel that they really let you down. They took us out here, they knew we were out here.
‘The whole thing has just been horrendous and really stressful, and something that you quite honestly don’t need when you’ve got your mum who’s devastated that her dad’s about to die.’
After cancelling dozens of flights over the weekend, easyJet scrapped a further 37 yesterday, with Gatwick the worst affected.
These included flights from destinations such as Bilbao, Madrid and Seville in Spain, Milan and Palermo in Italy, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, and Malta.
An easyJet spokesman said: ‘EasyJet is operating over 1,700 flights today carrying almost 300,000 customers.
‘Unfortunately, due to the ongoing challenging operating environment around 37 flights have been cancelled today ahead of customers arriving at the airport.
‘We are very sorry and fully understand the disruption this will have caused for our customers.’
Some 225 departures from UK airports were cancelled between Monday and Friday last week, according to aviation data firm Cirium.
That compares with 24 during the corresponding half-term week last year.