Gatwick airport: Thousands left stranded by delays over weather disruptions and staff shortages
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Thousands of passengers flying to and from London Gatwick were left stranded after at least 70 flights were cancelled, with staff shortage in the airport control tower and weather disruptions blamed for the chaos.
According to the Independent, delays built up through Monday morning (July 24) at the Sussex airport during one of the busiest weeks of the year for air travel as schools break up for summer holidays.
The flight cancellations and diversions began by mid-afternoon, which saw 30 flights cancelled by easyJet, including two round trips to both Geneva and Paris CDG. Two easyJet flights were diverted to Stansted as pressure on the single runway intensified.
Vueling cancelled arrivals from, and departures to, Bilbao, Paris and Rome. Wizz Air and Norwegian grounded four flights each.
Gatwick airport tweeted then: “Disruption this evening has been caused by last minute staff shortages at the control tower and also air traffic restrictions due to poor weather conditions across Europe.”
On Tuesday (July 26), easyJet cancelled a dozen more flights, including a round-trip to Bodrum in Turkey, citing air-traffic control restrictions as the main reason.
An estimated 11,000 passengers were scheduled to travel on the cancelled flights. According to European air passenger rights regulations, they have the right to be rebooked to their destination as quickly as practicable. However, with flights often 90% filled, there is limited room for seeking swift alternatives.
Even though the airlines were not at fault, they were required to pay for hotel accommodations and meals for stranded customers.
Passengers took their frustrations to Twitter, with many criticising the airport for its lack of support following the cancellation of flights. One wrote: “Had an awful experience today with the special assistance team, all the years of flying I can honestly say it was a shambles, with the added stress of last minute flight cancellation.”
Another tweeted: “Gatwick Airport - utterly hopeless…flight delayed by 3 hours due apparently as you were using alternate runway then at 0030 180 passengers have to wait for 30 minutes for steps to arrive - get a grip you’re turning UK into a 3rd world country.”
Asked about the latest situation at the airport today (July 26), a spokesperson said: “Heavy air traffic control restrictions were put in place for much of the day (24 July) due to poor weather across large parts of Europe.
“This issue was compounded by an unforeseen issue in London Gatwick’s control tower, which reduced the number of available air traffic controllers.
“Unfortunately, these factors combined and caused significant delays and some cancellations. We would like to apologise to any passengers who were inconvenienced by this disruption”.
What to do if your flights are cancelled?
Under UK law, airlines must provide passengers with care and assistance in the event of a flight cancellation. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, many airlines will provide vouchers to buy food and drink. If you require accommodation, they may book a hotel and arrange transportation for you.
Sometimes airlines however, are unable to arrange care and assistance for all passengers. This can happen when staff are stretched during major disruptions.
It said: “If this happens, in our view you have the right to organise reasonable care and assistance yourself, then claim the cost back later. If you end up paying for things yourself, keep every receipt and do not spend more than is reasonable. Airlines are unlikely to refund you for things like luxury hotels or alcohol. Some will provide guidance on reasonable costs.
“We would expect the airline concerned to respond to a claim for reimbursement in a reasonable time and at the very least provide you with an indication of how long you should expect to wait for a response. If you are unhappy with the length of time it is taking or disagree with the airline’s decision regarding your claim, please see our section on how to make a complaint.”
Passengers are also entitled to compensation, if you received less than 14 days’ notice of the cancellation. However, if it wasn’t the airline’s fault, such as disruptions caused by things like extreme weather, airport or air traffic control employee strikes or other ‘extraordinary circumstances’, passengers are not eligible for compensation.