The airline that keeps cancelling flights minutes before take-off

·6-min read
Departure flight board with cancelation at the Airport - Alamy
Departure flight board with cancelation at the Airport - Alamy

Never dump somebody by text, they say. And certainly don’t do so minutes before a big date. If only Wizz Air got the memo.

It has been a summer of disruption for airlines. Strike action and staff shortages have come together in a vicious storm that has already affected thousands of holidaymakers, particularly those booked with easyJet and British Airways. But Wizz is developing an unfortunate reputation for cancelling flights at the 11th hour.

Giorgio D’Anna was due to fly on the 09.50am Wizz Air service from Gatwick to Podgorica in Montenegro. It was a holiday he had been looking forward to for some time – he planned to go hiking in the Durmitor National Park. Which made it all the more disappointing when he received a text from the airline, 20 minutes after boarding was underway.

“I got to the gate about an hour before the departure time. The plane was there at the gate and I thought ‘excellent, this will mean no late departure.’

“They started to board, and then about 10 minutes later they said that the flight would be delayed by 40 minutes with no explanation as to why.

“There was a man who worked for Gatwick who said that some mechanical fault was being fixed, but I think that was an excuse to keep people from questioning him. I felt sorry for him as all the workers of the airline were nowhere to be found.”

At 10.19am, Giorgio received a text message informing him that his flight had been cancelled, and that his rights had been emailed to him.

“No announcement was made by any staff at the airport. In fact, from the moment we were told the flight was initially delayed, I did not see a single member of Wizz Air staff in the airport.”

Giorgio and his fellow passengers were ultimately instructed to return through passport control, and then had no choice but to travel home. And he is not alone in falling foul to a last-minute cancellation from the Hungary-based operator.

Sue was due to fly on the 10.45am Wizz service from Malaga to Gatwick on July 1. On the morning of the flight, she had received an email saying the flight had been delayed to 11.35am. She and her boyfriend arrived at the airport at 8.45am, when she received a text. The flight had been cancelled, although the departure board had not been updated.

“We joined a long queue where we were handed a two-pager on our rights. Once we got to the front of the queue we were offered alternative flights. However, these didn’t suit us as we needed to get back to the UK for a wedding the following day.”

In the end, Sue and her boyfriend booked onto the next Ryanair flight for the sum of €1,000. To add salt to the wound, the flight landed at Stansted, meaning a lengthy trip to collect their car that was parked up at Gatwick 70 miles away.

“We are hopefully, according to the information offered, eligible for a refund for the flight and compensation of €250 to €400 each. But this doesn’t cover the cost of the alternative flight we had to book.”

Wizz Air plane - NurPhoto via Getty
Wizz Air plane - NurPhoto via Getty

The case studies don’t end there. Last month travel writer Teresa Machan experienced a last-minute Wizz cancellation when flying to Crete from Gatwick.

She wrote: “The news was not delivered by Wizz Air staff – none were present – but by a ground agent and with a clear subtext: ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’ Among the passengers clutching their hand luggage there was disbelief, dismay and a few tears, but no ugly scenes. The look on many faces was one of weary resignation.”

For two passengers on this flight, Dagmara and Konrad, this was their second cancellation in as many days. After the same Wizz Air departure was scrapped on Friday, June 10, the pair had spent the night at a hotel in Crawley for £110. Now, after the second cancellation, it was beginning to look like their holiday wouldn’t go ahead. Add in the cost of car parking (£150), rebooked seats at £216 per person, and a hotel bill for £1,100, and they stood to lose a small fortune.

People have taken to Twitter to report similar experiences. Sebastian Roberts Tweeted Wizz Air on July 3: “Had my flight Malaga–London cancelled three times in the past four days. What’s going on? Phone line doesn’t work and you charge us to call you.”

Another, Catherine, wrote on July 3 regarding her Wizz flight: “Not happy about the cancelled flight / message sent at 23:45 when flight is in six hours! With no alternative flights offered.”

One user, who goes by the name of ‘The Chief’, tweeted Wizz on July 1: “Are you serious? You literally cancelled our flight to Larnaca this morning when everyone was queuing at the check-in. Not a single employee on the ground to assist, no customer service either.”

Yet another Wizz passenger, Kaylee, wrote on July 4: “Woke up at 3:30am, arrived at the airport, checked the bag, made it all the way through passport control to the gate, only to find out our flight was cancelled without so much as an email! Worst customer service ever.”

When the Telegraph approached Wizz for an explanation, a spokesperson said: “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 said it is offering passengers impacted by cancellations a range of options so they can travel, including alternative flights with Wizz, a full refund or 120 per cent in airline credit within one week. However, passengers who have booked through a third party may experience longer waits for a refund and possible processing fees.

What to do if your flight is cancelled

Our consumer expert, Nick Trend, has written an eight-part action plan if your flight has been cancelled on the day of departure.

There are a number of factors to consider, including whether your best bet is to book with a different airline on the same day, or to wait to be placed on an alternative flight from your airline. Read the full article before you go, and make sure you know your rights.

Have you had a Wizz Air flight cancelled, or difficulties with any other airlines with summer? Comment below to join the conversation.