‘Our Christmas plans have been ruined by a rogue drone’: Furious passengers blast Gatwick chaos after diversions and cancellations leave thousands stranded across UK and Europe
- Families running out of food and trying to sleep in ‘freezing’ Gatwick terminals
- Pregnant women and young children on the floor and disabled people on chairs
- One man allegedly opened plane door after being stuck on ground for 4 hours
- ** Caught up in the Gatwick chaos? Please email: [email protected] or [email protected] **
Passengers stranded by the chaos at Gatwick Airport today told of families running out of food and trying to sleep in ‘freezing’ terminals and crowded planes.
Pregnant women and young children were resting on the floor, disabled people were on chairs and people were trying to calm small babies amid the travel carnage.
Some became so irate at being stuck on the ground for four hours at Stansted that one allegedly opened the plane door before another claimed he was a terrorist.
At Gatwick, most of the 110,000 passengers due to fly are expected to face delays or cancellations, following the continuing disruption which began at 9pm last night.
The airport initially reopened at 3am today, before closing again and saying it would reopen at 8am. However, this never materialised – and it was still shut at 1pm today.
At London Gatwick today, Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia (pictured) from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas
This shows where passengers heading for Gatwick have been diverted since 9pm last night
Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas.
But she said: ‘Who will be the one to break the news to them? Sat in departures with no information. Twelve-plus hours to take down a drone is laughable… don’t they have police drones to send up?’
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Meanwhile Anne Parsons from pet travel agent Annie’s Animal Ark in Cyprus said she had sent pets from Paphos to Gatwick last night – and they had been in their crates since 6pm UK time.
However, the animals are now stuck on an aircraft Liverpool because they cannot disembark there. She told MailOnline: ‘Oh what I’d like to do to the drone pilot!’
MailOnline travel editor Ted Thornhill was among those caught up in the trouble, as his Christmas plans to visit relatives in France were ‘ruined’ by the drone.
Dozens of police officers are now hunting for the drone pilot as flights remain delayed today
The father-of-one said: ‘We were supposed to be flying to Marseille to visit French relatives but our 8.40am easyJet flight was cancelled.
‘The only options open to us were to transfer to a late flight tomorrow to Nice – which would have been very disruptive for the baby’s sleep pattern – or book a new flight, which would have been very expensive.
‘So we’ve cancelled the entire trip. Luckily we heard about the disruption before we got to the airport so returned home. Very frustrating.’
A six-and-a-half hour TUI Airways flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick was diverted to Stansted due to disruption caused by drones over the Sussex airport.
Passengers stand by a plane door in Paris today after being diverted there on a Norweigan flight that had been headed to Gatwick. They said staff had started handing out water bottles
Passengers sit on the ground as they wait for announcements at London Gatwick today
But passengers claimed it was ‘pure hell’ on the Tarmac at Stansted overnight on flight TOM687, with some shouting at other travellers and being abusive to staff.
Having been stuck on the plane – which landed at about 10.15pm last night – for four hours, a man then allegedly opened the door and put everyone on board at risk.
Another then said he was a terrorist – and video footage showed two Essex Police officers coming on board to defuse the situation. No arrests were made.
One passenger, Lyndsey Clarke, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, tweeted: ‘So Gatwick is shut due to drones so our flight TOM687 has been diverted to Stansted.
Two women sit on a mobility cart as passengers wait for announcements at Gatwick today
‘So far we’ve been stuck on our plane for four hours… a man has opened the plane door and put everyone at risk and then another guy says he’s a terrorist.
‘Living pure hell right now. The staff on flight TOM687 have been amazing but unfortunately they have been subject to so much abuse.
‘We all just want to get home. Several passengers on flight TOM687 just making this ordeal so awful, abusive to staff, shouting at other passengers. Police here now.’
Later, she added that she finally off ‘the plane of living hell’, adding: ‘Now to find a taxi back to Gatwick with a big bill – passengers trying to go together.’
Passengers try to rest on the floor at Gatwick as they wait for announcements today
And at 5.30am, Ms Clarke tweeted a picture of her car, saying: ‘Never been so happy to see our car. Back at Gatwick finally… eight hours later than our scheduled flight was due to arrive home at 9.30pm… just over an hour’s drive home now.’
After arriving home she tweeted: ‘As for the terrorist… I have no words that someone thought it was OK to terrify an aircraft by saying he was a terrorist when in fact he was using it as an ‘idea’ to get them to let us off the plane, causing many of us to have panic attacks as we didn’t know if he was real.’
Another passenger, Ashley Pollitt, tweeted TUI to praise staff on the flight for being ‘nothing but helpful and informing us regularly’ about what was happening.
She added: ‘I’m sensing you will get a lot of complaints off idiotic customers that put both passengers/staff in danger along with other throwing stupid statements around.
Passenger chaos at Gatwick Airport this morning, amid chaos for tens of thousands of people
‘I just wanted to say your staff from the captain to the cabin crew were nothing but professional and informative.’
TUI replied, saying: ‘Sorry to hear that your flight has had to be diverted Ashley, I can imagine this has been an inconvenience. It’s great to read however that our staff have been helpful in keeping you informed during this time.’
It then added: ‘Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us Ashley. We’ll be sure to pass on your kind words to the crew of TOM687.’
An Essex Police spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We were called shortly after 1.35am on Thursday, December 20 to reports a passenger was being disruptive.
Passengers queue while waiting for announcements at Gatwick South Terminal this morning
‘We attended and spoke to the parties involved. No offences were identified and words of advice were given to the male passenger.’
A TUI spokesman said: ‘We would like to apologise to customers travelling on TOM687 which was diverted to London Stansted due to the London Gatwick drone disruption.
‘While the aircraft was held on stand, our captain made the decision to call police to the aircraft due to a customer’s disruptive behaviour. We operate a zero tolerance policy on aggressive and abusive behaviour on board our flights.
‘The safety and security of all our customers and crew remains our number one priority and we are doing everything possible to minimise the disruption for our customers during this time.’
The arrivals board at Gatwick this morning, showing cancelled, diverted and delayed flights
Stansted Airport declined to comment.
Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, said she saw a pregnant woman sleeping on the floor and passengers with infants spending the night in the ‘freezing’ South Terminal.
She said she got to the airport at 12.30am for a 3am flight to Cyprus via Kiev, only to find it had been cancelled and the next connection in Kiev is on Sunday.
She said: ‘I haven’t slept since yesterday morning, we are very tired. It’s freezing, we are cold, having to wear all of these coats for extra blankets.
‘There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor. There were people with small babies in here overnight, we saw disabled people on chairs.
‘There were young children sleeping on the floor.’
She said she will have to spend a night in Kiev, but she had been told by Ukraine International Airlines that there may be a chance of an alternative connection through Tel Aviv.
‘Hopefully they will arrange a hotel for us so we don’t have another night in an airport,’ she added.
Video footage showed two police officers coming on board to defuse the situation on board a TUI Airways flight which was diverted from Gatwick to London Stansted last night
Chris Lister, from Somerset, who owns an online business, was travelling back from Kiev with his wife Freya.
He was due to land at Gatwick at 9.45pm yesterday but ended up trapped on the plane on the Tarmac at Birmingham Airport until 6am.
‘There were quite a few babies and kids on board, I think they were struggling more than we were and one woman had run out milk,’ he said.
After starting his journey in Bangkok on Tuesday he was finally let off the plane at 6am, he said.
The TUI flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick (pictured) was diverted to Stansted
A Gatwick spokesman said 110,000 passengers were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights today.
He was unable to say how many had already been affected but the first wave of flights is normally the busiest time of the day.
Around 10,000 passengers were affected last night after the runway was closed at 9.03pm.
Passengers are advised not to travel to the airport if their flight is cancelled.
Joseph Ouechen, a photographer from Morocco, was due to fly into Gatwick on Wednesday night but had his flight diverted to Paris.
Queues of passengers in the check in area at Gatwick Airport today as they wait for updates
After arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport at midnight, passengers with visas for the Schengen area were taken to a hotel but those without – ‘about 20 per cent’ – were left in the airport to fend for themselves, he said.
‘There were families with babies who couldn’t get to their suitcases for their milk and stuff,’ he said.
‘We were asking just for a favour if (airport staff) could help but they said they couldn’t do anything.’
Firefighters eventually crossed the border through passport control with blankets and water at 3.30am, he said.
‘To be honest, I’m so tired and when the guys from the fire (service) came with the bottles and blankets I was feeling like a war, like (I was) a refugee, but I’m just flying to the UK.
The scene inside an easyJet plane today, three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which was closed because of the sighting of drones
‘It’s surreal. I was flying to the UK and now there are firemen bringing me water and blankets.’
Mamosta Abdulla said he was on an Iraq-bound flight yesterday evening before getting stuck on the Tarmac for four hours.
He will miss his father’s memorial service, he said.
‘We got here at 6pm and should have flown at 9.10pm, but we were stuck four hours on the plane with a crying baby, the child was disabled and everyone was sweating because it was so hot in there,’ he said.
Passengers were given a £12 voucher for food, he added, but were left to sleep ‘in a freezing place on uncomfortable chairs’.
‘We are in Iraq with bombs going off nearby and the plane still lands. But here some drones have shut down the airport.’
A helicopter flies over the runway at Gatwick Airport this morning after it was closed
Christopher Knibbs told MailOnline that he was on British Airways BA2154 from Bridgetown in Barbados to Gatwick.
He said: ‘About 30 minutes before we were due to land this morning – so around 5.30am, we were told that we were going to Heathrow instead and that this was a good thing as it might have been Düsseldorf.
‘Fair point but not really good enough. We were told that Gatwick airport runway will open at 9am so we sat on the runway at Heathrow for three hours, waiting for the 15 minute flight to Gatwick.
‘We were told to get out at Heathrow, after three hours of sitting on the runway. Why it took three hours for BA to decide this I have no idea. A T5 bus took a further 20 minutes to arrive whilst people sat on the runway.
‘Coaches were then laid on to get everyone back to Gatwick. The staff were very good but BA as an organisation – a shambles.’
This photograph was circulated today as allegedly showing the drone over Gatwick Airport
But Gareth Jones praised easyJet’s response to the chaos, telling MailOnline: ‘My son was due to fly home from Salzburg this morning on an Easyjet flight that was obviously cancelled.
‘They have transferred him to the same flight tomorrow and put him up in a four-star hotel, with meals, overnight.
‘Fortunately, he has no work commitments or time issues so it’s not a bad deal at the end of the day. easyJet get some bad press but this is good service on their part.’
Passenger Tim Rodda praised another airline, saying that he was on flight VS44 from Las Vegas to Gatwick, which was diverted to Heathrow.
He told MailOnline: ‘Virgin laid on coaches to transport any passengers that needed to get to Gatwick and I thought the Virgin staff did an excellent job in very trying circumstances.’
Gatwick travel chaos: What are consumers entitled to?
Tens of thousands of passengers have been suffering travel chaos after drones were flown around Gatwick Airport. Here is a look at what help customers could be entitled to:
– Will those affected be entitled to compensation?
Consumer rights experts say that despite the frustration for those who have suffered disruption, these are ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: ‘This situation will understandably be frustrating for both the airlines and the tens of thousands of passengers travelling to and from Gatwick ahead of Christmas.
‘Whilst these extraordinary circumstances unfortunately mean you are not entitled to compensation, you may still be entitled to meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation or transfers.
‘You don’t have to cancel your tickets though, as depending on the length of the delay, your airline should be providing you with alternative travel options or accommodation.’
– What are extraordinary circumstances?
Compensation for delayed or cancelled flights hinges on the reason for the delay and the length of notice passengers are given. Which? says that in cases where the airline can prove the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances, no compensation is payable.
Extraordinary circumstances are situations out of the airline’s control, for example, a security risk, political instability or severe weather that makes flying dangerous.
– What support can people get?
Which? says that if someone’s flight is delayed for at least two hours, depending on the length of the flight, their airline may give them two free phone calls, faxes or emails; free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay; and free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required.
If a flight was delayed for more than five hours they may be able to choose between being rerouted on a different flight or getting a refund – just as if the flight had been cancelled.
– How can insurers help?
Martyn James, spokesman for consumer help website Resolver.co.uk, suggests that as well as speaking to the airline, ‘you can also speak to your travel insurer to see if you have any options in your insurance policy’.
Giving general advice, the Association of British Insurers said people should speak to their airline or travel company first.
A spokesman said: ‘For additional travel disruption costs, such as missed hotel bookings or already paid for activities that you can no longer make, you should speak to your travel insurer as these may be covered under the terms of your travel insurance, depending on the type of cover you have bought.’
Insurer Axa says if customers need to change the dates of their trip they should make contact to update their policy.
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