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Families left sleeping on airport floor as easyJet cancels at least 23 flights

Families were left sleeping on airport floors last night after the budget airline easyJet grounded at least 23 flights to and from Gatwick Airport at the last minute.

The carrier has blamed “air-traffic control restrictions” for yesterday’s flight cancellations, although no other airlines operating out of Gatwick seem to have been affected.

The services cancelled were to: Basel, Belfast, Berlin, Geneva, Hamburg, Heraklion, the Isle of Man, Larnaca, Palma de Mallorca, Tenerife, Toulouse and Zurich.

More than 3,000 passengers are likely to have been affected.

For one of them, Nicola Caine, it was her second easyJet cancellation in 48 hours.

Ms Caine and family had originally been set to fly from Manchester on Monday, and were boarded and delayed for two hours before being told their flight could not operate as staff were past the limit of their legal working hours.

She reluctantly accepted a four-hour coach transfer to from Manchester to Gatwick for another flight 24 hours later. But this, too was cancelled – with limited assistance, she says, from airline staff.

“Again, no help from anyone at easyJet – we were told to go to a gate for help and accommodation, but there we were told to go on the app or contact customer services.

“We are now sleeping on the airport floor and have just received an email to say we are on our third flight tomorrow at 12.50pm,” Ms Caine told The Independent last night. “There are 18 of us from Manchester, stranded.”

The Independent calculates that – assuming her Wednesday flight leaves on time at 12.50pm – the Caines will have spent more than 30 hours in airports this week waiting for an easyJet flight. This does not include the hours spent travelling between Manchester and Gatwick.

The Caine family remained positive even after sleeping in Gatwick Airport

(Nicola Caine)

Graham Beresford also says his mother and brother were forced to “spend the night on the floor in Gatwick Airport with no food, drinks or explanation” from easyJet.

Emily and Alex Ellwood were also affected by yesterday’s cancellations. Set to travel to Larnaca with easyJet for a friend’s wedding on Friday, at which Alex is an usher, the couple arrived at Gatwick early afternoon on Tuesday.

Despite a small delay to boarding, the couple managed to board their 3.20pm flight shortly after 3pm.

Staff told them there may be a short delay “as they were a couple of planes ahead of us”, but that they should be taking off shortly, Emily told The Independent.

Over the next two hours, they suspected something bigger was happening as crew continued to assure passengers they would take off imminently.

“People were asking about food and they said they had no food on board. They said they had sent an email earlier in the day, but many people had not received one,” says Emily.

Around two hours into the unexplained wait, “they suddenly said this crew can’t fly now.” They explained to passengers that the staff onboard had reached their maximum legal hours and could not operate the flight.

Fellow passenger Kyri Zindilis says Larnaca passengers were told the pre-boarding delay was “due to the aircraft being delayed in Alicante”, the delay on board was explained as “due to bad weather”, and that they were told the airline was able to change over the crew before the flight was ultimately cancelled.

Under Civil Aviation (Working Time) Regulations, flight crew are allowed to work a maximum of 900 flying hours per year, with at least seven days off in each calendar year.

After two and a half hours sitting on the plane, passengers received an email from easyJet saying their flight had been cancelled – with the pilot confirming this shortly after.

“Everyone was tired, p*ssed off – we’d sat for three hours on a plane that didn’t move. The flight itself would have been four hours,” says Emily.

Around 6pm – nearly three hours after their scheduled departure time – the Larnaca passengers had to disembark and go back through passport control, after which they endured a more than three-and-a-half-hour wait.

Two other easyJet flights had been cancelled around the same time, and the couple say there was confusion in the airport with no easyJet staff around to explain the delay or give any updates.

Mr Zindilis claims that an easyJet staff member told passengers at baggage claim: “What do you expect booking a cheap airline?”

If a flight is cancelled by the airline, passengers are entitled to a full refund, or a free replacement flight offered by the airline – booked on a rival carrier if the original airline cannot offer a viable alternative.

In the Ellwoods’ case, the replacement flight they were offered was on Sunday, two days after the wedding, so they opted for a refund.

However, they believe they are entitled to further compensation – as well as transport to and from Gatwick, food at Gatwick, lost money on a taxi transfer and hotel nights in Cyprus, they have had to spend £980 on two one-way British Airways flights to Larnaca at short notice.

EasyJet is telling passengers affected by yesterday’s cancellations: “We’re sorry that your flight has been cancelled. This is due to air traffic control restrictions which resulted in crew on your flight reaching their maximum legal working hours.

“There are strict industry wide rules on the number of hours the crew are allowed to work. To protect the safety of our customers and crew these cannot be exceeded. As a result we had no option but to cancel your flight.

“The disruption to your flight is outside of our control and is considered to be an extraordinary circumstance.”

Under these “extraordinary circumstances”, they say, no compensation past the refund of flight fares is due to passengers.

Emily and Alex Ellwood say there was no mention of air-traffic control complications during the delay.

Mr Zindilis tweeted: “Even if @EasyJet offered me free flights for the rest of time accompanied by a topless Zac Efron holding kittens and puppies, I’d still never set foot on one of their aircrafts again. Awful.”

Meanwhile, yet more passengers took to social media today to complain of easyJet flights cancelled up to 30 minutes before departure time.

An easyJet spokesperson told The Independent that air traffic control slot restrictions were “the main causal factor” for yesterdays cancellations “due to weather”. They added that this pushed crew over their legal working hours, and that curfews at some of the destination airports (Berlin, Hamburg and Zurich among them) had been a factor in the cancellations.

Of the Caine family’s experience, they said: “Unfortunately we were unable to operate the EZY1903 from Manchester to Tenerife on Monday due to air traffic control restrictions earlier in the day leading to the crew reaching their maximum operating hours. We’re very sorry that the flight the family transferred on to from Gatwick was also cancelled yesterday. They have now flown on a flight this afternoon.

“We always aim to minimise the impact on our customers, providing them with the options to transfer to an alternative flight free of charge, or receive a refund or a voucher. Our customer team has been in touch with the family to talk them through their options.”


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