Holiday hell for tens of thousands as walkouts and storms leave them stranded

Simon Calder

On one of the busiest weekends of the year, tens of thousands of airline passengers are still trying to complete their journeys after widespread flight cancellations.

On Friday Ryanair had its worst-ever day of strikes, with an estimated 100 flights to and from the UK cancelled as pilots in five European countries took industrial action.

While the 18,000 passengers affected by the Ryanair strikes had at least 48 hours’ notice of the cancellations, many more were hit by sudden cancellations – particularly on easyJet and British Airways to Gatwick and Heathrow.

French kipping: one of the passengers stranded at Nice airport when a British Airways flight was delayed overnight (Adam Whitfield)

The effects of bad weather in the UK on Friday, together with thunderstorms across the northern Mediterranean from the Balearic islands to the coasts of southern France and northern Italy, continued through Saturday.

With pilots and planes out of position, easyJet has cancelled 18 flights to and from Gatwick, affecting about 3,000 people.

British Airways cancelled more than 40 flights, mainly to and from Heathrow, and delayed about a dozen planes overnight in various locations.

More than 7,000 passengers were affected.

One of the grounded flights was BA357 from Nice to Heathrow, which was delayed for three hours and eventually postponed overnight.

Airlines that cancel flights are required to provide hotels for passengers, and transport for them to get there. But BA booked rooms only for the pilots and cabin crew.

Passengers were instead given a letter saying that British Airways would pay up to £200 for a hotel room, and £50 for the return journey by taxi.

In August even a three-star hotel on the French Riviera costs more than £200 per night.

Many passengers stayed at the airport, including Adam Whitfield, who tweeted: “12hrs and counting at @NiceAirportFR. No water, no info, no BA staff. 6 more hours to wait. Single girls, families and elderly on their own.”

Elaine Lewis from west London told The Independent: “I naively thought we would be bussed to a hotel and put up for the night.

“Many people especially with young children ended up staying in the airport because there were no hotel rooms or, if there were, they were too expensive.

“This morning we got to the airport at 6am to learn that our 8am flight is expected at 12.30pm.” It finally arrived at Heathrow 16 hours late.

Graham Burdon tweeted: “Our family has just spent the night on airport concourse and we have to take 15hrs delay whilst watching other BA flights board on time. There are still no BA staff here.”

A spokesperson for British Airways said: “We are sorry for the delay to our customers’ travel plans due to the thunderstorms across parts of the UK and Europe. We have been doing everything we can to minimise disruption.

“By law cabin and flight crew require a minimum rest time and unfortunately it took longer than originally anticipated to locate accommodation for them as the hotels across Nice are very busy at the moment.

“We contacted customers as soon as possible to advise them of the delay.”

At Biarritz airport in southwest France, easyJet cancelled Friday night’s departure to Gatwick at late notice.

One 14-year-old passenger. Georgiana Hillier, was told the airline would provide no assistance and that she should return in five days for the first available flight.

Her father, Chris Hillier, said: “I am apoplectic with rage towards easyJet and their abandonment of my 14-year-old daughter for five days in a foreign airport.”

An easyJet spokesperson said: ”Due to her age and because she was travelling alone, Ms Hillier should have been rebooked to fly with an alternative carrier within 24 hours in line with our policy.

“As this didn’t happen we have launched an investigation to understand why this wasn’t followed. easyJet is in contact with Mr Hillier to advise that she will be reimbursed for the alternative travel that they subsequently booked.”

Across the Spanish border in Girona, a Ryanair flight to Birmingham was cancelled while passengers were waiting in the departure lounge. One of then, Jessica Longbottom, said: “Our replacement flight is on Sunday out of Barcelona to East Midlands.

“We all had to arrange our transport and hotels late into the evening. Families with children were struggling.

“We spoke to one man who did not have the means to purchase a hotel room, one lady who had had her cards stolen on her holiday and a few people who were down to their last euros.”

A Ryanair spokesperson said: “This flight from to Girona to Birmingham was regrettably cancelled after the inbound flight was delayed due to thunderstorms and slot delays.

“All affected customers were contacted by SMS text and email and advised of their options of a full refund, free transfer onto another flight or free transfer onto an alternative route, hotel accommodation was authorised where needed and customers were advised to retain and submit vouched receipted expenses.”

More cancellations are expected on Sunday as a result of Saturday’s disruption.