My seven-hour flight delay cost me £1,500 and almost ended in a passenger mutiny

Dominey Jenner and her family
Dominey Jenner and her family

It all began so well. When Dominey Jenner and her family arrived at Gatwick Airport on Monday to catch their easyJet flight to Dubrovnik their holiday had got off to a flying start – a five-minute check-in queue, plenty of staff “working hard” to assist them and a swift journey through security. All prior concerns of chaos seemed unfounded.

But as thousands of British travellers at UK airports have experienced recently, things can quickly take a turn for the worse.

“If I believed in purgatory, this would be it,” Jenny wrote on social media from the terminal, where there were “long queues and food shortages”. She later shared a video from her aircraft, which remained stationary on the tarmac for over four hours while only “one glass of water” and no food were made available to passengers.

It’s a daunting story for the hordes of families preparing to jet off on their summer holidays in the coming weeks, made worse by the fact it was via text message that the Jenners learned that, almost eight hours after their planned departure, the plane wouldn’t be taking off at all – and that there were no airport hotels with available rooms.

Below Dominey Jenner from Wimbledon tells The Telegraph how she has been forced to save her own holiday after being left “feeling like a hostage” at the mercy of the chaos engulfing the aviation industry.

Mrs Jenner writes:

The flight was EasyJet 6427 from Gatwick South to Dubrovnik on July 11, and we were due to depart at 1.40pm. We were called to the gate at 12.53pm and when we arrived, we were all checked in to the lounge.

At about 1.20pm we were told that there was a technical difficulty with the plane and that engineers needed to look at it. We were told to return to the main lounge.

I asked one of the ground staff if the plane was even at Gatwick. He said, “that’s the information we’ve been given” and that it needed a maintenance check.

When I expressed my disbelief, and my fears that we would see delay after delay and then eventually a cancellation, he just laughed. I soon found out our plane was actually over Toulouse at the time – I found it using a flight tracking website.

We were called back to the gate at about 3pm and then finally onto the plane for 4pm – already over two hours behind schedule.

We were on the stand until about 4.30pm, having been told we were waiting for a slot. We moved towards the runway and then stopped. We were informed that the ground crew had noticed some abnormalities and that there needed to be another maintenance check.

We were given very few updates, none of which were meaningful. After a couple of hours the crew brought us each a glass of water. There was food on board but apparently they weren’t allowed to open the trolleys. There were some small children on board and a diabetic man – they gave him a can of Coke.

Various passengers, including myself, told the crew that a decision needed to be made. Was the flight being cancelled or not? We needed time to rebook flights and overnight accommodation. They just said they knew nothing.

People were very patient, but after about three hours on the tarmac, you could feel tensions rising. One couple had given notice to the crew that they were simply going to walk off the plane in half an hour – the stairs had been down and open the whole time. A few passengers called the police and I heard later that Gatwick Police were about to come and escort us off.

At about 8.30pm – nearly seven hours after we were supposed to depart – staff finally agreed to give us some food, but just as they were doing so the buses arrived to take us back to the terminal. We then waited about an hour to get through passport control – strange, since we’d not gone anywhere. Our luggage didn’t arrive until about midnight.

We had no help at all from EasyJet. It was a total shambles.

We’ve had to take it into our own hands to save our holiday. My husband waited at Gatwick to get our bags back. I brought our girls (aged 10 and 13) home on the train after trying several hotels at Gatwick, but all were fully booked.

I had to change our hotel reservation in Croatia and book new flights, with BA this time, and a taxi to take us to Heathrow. Our car is still at Gatwick – after being stuck on the plane for so long we couldn’t face waiting for parking staff to get it. We finally made it to Dubrovnik on Tuesday evening, but we’re now £1,580 out of pocket.

I’ll obviously be seeking a refund for our cancelled flights. We decided to try and complete our journey because of all the work that goes into getting ready for holiday. Whether we’ll get compensated for everything remains to be seen.

Queues at Gatwick Airport
Queues at Gatwick Airport

EasyJet response

In response to Mrs Jenner’s account, an easyJet spokesperson said:

“We are very sorry for the delay and subsequent cancellation of flight EZY6427 from London Gatwick to Dubrovnik, due to a technical issue with the aircraft operating the flight. Due to coaching delays as a result of staff sickness at Gatwick Airport, customers were delayed in disembarking and while our crew did all possible to minimise the impact of the delay by providing refreshments onboard, we fully understand and are very sorry for the difficulty this will have caused.

“We notified customers directly of their options to rebook or receive a full refund, along with information on how to arrange this online or via the app. Unfortunately there was limited hotel accommodation available in London Gatwick and so we advised customers who were required to source their own that they will be reimbursed. Our team is contacting Ms Jenner to apologise for her experience and offer any further assistance she may need.”

Need to know

We explain your rights as a passenger if you too find yourself stuck on the tarmac this summer.

Why are planes held on the tarmac?

Aircraft can be held on the ground for a number of reasons, from mechanical issues, staffing delays, security risks, bad weather or air traffic restrictions.

How long can planes be held on the tarmac?

There are no hard and fast rules on how long a plane can sit on the stand or runway, but timeframes do regulate what passengers are entitled to in terms of assistance and compensation (see below). As a guide, British Airways states on its website: “We will not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac (stands, taxiways) for more than four hours without the opportunity for you to disembark. This applies to both departing and to arriving aircraft. However, the pilot-in-command may decide there is a safety or security-related reason to stop this from happening. If Air Traffic Control advised us that remaining on, or returning to the gate, or permitting anyone to disembark elsewhere would significantly disrupt airport operations then we would also not be allowed to do this.”

What are my rights while waiting for a delayed flight to depart?

Anna Bowles, Head of Consumer at UK Civil Aviation Authority said: “There are rules in place to protect consumers, and we expect airlines to provide passengers with information about their rights proactively when flights are disrupted.”

According to the UK Civil Aviation Authroirty (CAA), airlines must provide the following to customers delayed on a sitting aircraft or in the terminal:

  • A reasonable amount of food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers)

  • A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls)

  • Accommodation, if you are re-routed the next day (usually in a nearby hotel)

  • Transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there)

The level of support you’ll be offered depends on your destination and how long you are forced to wait. For short-haul flights under 1,500km there is a two-hour timeframe until compensation and support should be offered, for medium haul between 1,500km and 3,500km it’s three hours and for long-haul flights over 3,500km it's more than four hours.

Can I claim for expenses?

If an airline is unable to supply the correct care and assistance themselves, passengers have the right to organise plans on their own – keep every receipt and avoid spending more than is reasonable in order to be able to claim it back. The claims process is usually carried out via the airline’s website.

Can I get off the plane and decide not to travel?

Ultimately for some passengers the experience of being delayed can outweigh the reward of getting to their destination. In this case, the CAA explains: “If you have been delayed for more than five hours and no longer wish to travel then you are entitled to a refund.” If you decide to leave earlier you’ll only be entitled to a refund if the flight is cancelled (see below), or the usual compensation (see below).

Am I entitled to a refund if my flight is delayed?

According to the CAA: “Under UK law, airlines may have to provide compensation if your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late.” This depends on what caused the delay and if there are any ‘extraordinary circumstances’ at play. The amount of compensation will depend on the length of your journey. For short-haul flights under 1,500km passengers could expect £220, on medium-haul flights between 1,500km and 3,500km this increases to £350 and further to £520 for long-haul flights (unless the delay is under four hours when the amount is reduced to £260).

Be aware of the small print however. On its website EasyJet notes: “the compensation will be reduced by 50 per cent if EasyJet is able to offer you re-routing on an alternative flight to your final destination.” This again depends on your destination and how soon after your original arrival time you touch down.

For more information on flight delays and compensation see our guide.

Am I entitled to a refund if my flight is cancelled?

“If a flight is cancelled the airline should ensure that passengers are offered a refund or alternative travel arrangements at the earliest opportunity,” said Bowles from the CAA. “This can include flights on other airlines, or a new flight at a convenient date. Where a cancellation is made with less than 14 days notice, passengers may be entitled to compensation. Where we have evidence that airlines are not systematically following guidelines, we won’t hesitate to take further action where required.”

For more information on what to do if your flight is cancelled see our guide.

Have you been impacted by flight delays or cancellations? Join the conversation in the comments below