British air passengers stranded around the world are facing a scramble to get home for Christmas as the impact of Gatwick’s drone chaos spreads around the globe.
Hundreds of holidaymakers and expats hoping to return to the UK for the festive season are frantically booking alternative routes due to the knock-on affect of cancelled flights following Gatwick’s shutdown.
Meanwhile, scores of others are trapped at European airports, where their planes were diverted when a rogue drone closed the London terminal’s runway for more than 30 hours.
Tourist Jane Riley slammed British Airways after she was left stuck in Antigua with uncertainty over when she would be able to fly back to her home in England.
The daughter of another Briton stranded on the holiday isle said her fsther was now having to fly up to New York, then across to Paris, where he would get the Eurostar home.
The long route would take him three days, meaning that, even if all goes to plan, he’ll only get back on Christmas Eve.
Kate Johnson and her boyfriend ate stuck in Toronto, Canada and are praying they get back to the UK in time to see her family at Christmas. They face delays of at least two days
British air passengers have been left stranded around the world due to Gatwick’s rogue drone
Kate Johnson, who lives in Canada but was planning to return to the UK to see her family this Christmas, is facing two-day delays in Toronto.
She told MailOnline: ‘I haven’t seen a lot of my family for over a year.
‘When we arrived at the airport, they said it was delayed until 00:20. We spent six hours in the airport only then to be told that the flight was cancelled.
‘The airline doesn’t cover any costs as it is unforeseeable circumstances out of their control which is completely understandable.
‘However, we are now staying at a hotel near the airport in Toronto and costs are climbing as we pay for accommodation and food.
‘We’ve just been told that they have put us on the next available flight which isn’t until tomorrow night! So we have lost two precious days of our trip to see my family.’
Those stuck in French and Belgian airports are also facing anxious waits to see when they would be returning to their families.
Others are now stuck in terminals around Europe after their flights were diverted in mid-air
Joseph Ouechen, a photographer from Morocco, was due to fly into Gatwick on Wednesday night but had his flight diverted to Paris.
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.
‘It’s surreal. I was flying to the UK and now there are firemen bringing me water and blankets.’
Joseph Ouechen said French authorities made things difficult for people when they landed in Paris after being diverted
More than 120,000 passengers were unable to either take off or land at the airport from 9pm on Wednesday and throughout Thursday.
A further 126,000 passengers were due to travel today, but 145 out of the scheduled 837 flights have already been cancelled as aircraft are out of position and the airport’s operations are restricted to just a few departures and arrivals per hour.
Among those stranded abroad are 27 schoolgirls from the Bruton School in Somerset. They were due to be back with their families last night, but had to stay on in Innsbruck, Austria following a ski trip.
Teachers are hoping they can get on a flight today to return to their anxious parents.
Jon Carles and his partner are stuck in Lanzarote. Speaking yesterday, he told MailOnline: ‘We were supposed to be to flying back to Gatwick today with EasyJet, but no one knows what’s going on here and what’s going to happen.
‘Managed to get through to easyJet after 45 minutes on hold and they told us to wait until 6pm and see what happens. And if gets cancelled we can’t get a flight back with them for 48hours.’
This shows where passengers heading for Gatwick have been diverted since 9pm last night
Mother-of-two’s tears as Christmas in her homeland is cancelled
Mother Liliana Cabrera broke down as she learned her flight to take her sons to visit their grandparents in Colombia had been cancelled.
The 41-year-old had planned a three-week trip to Bogota with Isaac, six, and Leonardo, five, and had five suitcases filled with Christmas presents for her family.
The museum worker from Greenwich, South East London, arrived at the airport at 3.45am only to find her 10am flight was cancelled.
Liliana Cabrera with sons Isaac, six, and Leonardo, five, at Gatwick Airport
Another flight was announced for 2pm but when the family went to the gate, as directed, they were simply given their luggage back.
‘I don’t want to cry but we just wanted to see my family at Christmas,’ she said.
‘Now we’re waiting to see what we have to do next. We’re hoping somehow we can still get to Colombia. [Staff have] said, ‘You need to go home.’ Our cases are full of Christmas presents for my parents and brother and sister.’
Tracy Herbert Paton, from Dumbarton, was about to board a 6.30pm British Airways flight from Orlando, Florida, to Glasgow with a transfer at Gatwick on Wednesday night when she heard about the drones.
She said: ‘We knew the drones were fluttering about, and I updated my Facebook status to say they had eight hours to fix it and have Gatwick open for us arriving.
‘At around 7am on the flight, the captain announced that Gatwick Airport was closed, and we were being redirected to Newcastle, which then changed pretty quickly and we ended up in Cardiff.
‘We landed in Cardiff at 7.25am and were sat on the plane on the tarmac for over four hours until 11.50am when we were allowed off the plane and into arrivals.
‘We claimed our bags and made our way to the car park where we were directed onto a coach to take us to London Gatwick – 3.5 hours away. Which we are on now.
‘We’ve had no food since 6am, when we had coffee and croissant – airplane style – and we don’t actually know what happens when we get to Gatwick. BA have booked us onto a flight from London City airport to Edinburgh at 5.10pm but I don’t think we will make that flight as we would need to get from Gatwick to London City then from Edinburgh to Glasgow. We’ll have been in five airports in 24 hours and we have our 12-year-old daughter with us.’
Holidaymakers who went on pre-Christmas breaks to the Caribbean face long delays in getting back.
Londoner Jennifer, who is stuck in Jamaica, tweeted Gatwick bosses saying: ‘I would like to get home for Christmas, but I’m stranded abroad at the moment. Is there any chance you could shoot the drones down?’
Dan Walters, from Wales, posted online: ‘Flight from Antigua to Gatwick cancelled this evening. Now having to fly to New York tomorrow and then on to Heathrow.’
However, he saw the funny side, joking: ‘There are worse places to be stranded though..’
One flyer hoping to reach London had to land in Paris – where he was told that he’d be diverted back to the UK on a bus. Others paid for hotels in the French capital out of their own pockets after failing to get information from their airlines.
Police are pictured at Gatwick’s police station roof yesterday as they use equipment in the ongoing task to stop the drone unleashing chaos in Sussex
Off to Birmingham after Toronto flight cancelled
Mother Pam Noakes was waiting to take her young children to spend Christmas with their grandparents in Canada.
The mother-of-two was due to fly from Gatwick to Toronto, but was told at the airport that the flight would be leaving from Birmingham instead.
Pam Noakes and her children, aged five and two, pictured stranded at Gatwick Airport
Mrs Noakes, whose children are aged five and two, said: ‘They’re apparently putting on a coach to Birmingham.
‘It should be leaving soon, because everyone has been told to get their suitcases checked in. It would have been my children’s first Christmas in Canada with their grandparents. We’ll have to see if we actually get there.’
Corinne Roberts said that her parents-in-law were stuck in a departure lounge in Brussels as their visa don’t allow them to enter the country beyond that point.
Those who didn’t find themselves stuck abroad had to land more than 100 miles from their destination once they made their way back to the UK.
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.
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.’
Bride-to-be Tayo Abraham (centre) surrounded yesterday by her friends in the wedding party, at Gatwick Airport who were due to fly to Marrakesh in Morocco but face more uncertainty
Passengers wait to check in at Gatwick Airport this morning as the disruption continues
Passengers stranded last night at Gatwick Airport, which only reopened at 6am this morning
Family trip to Lapland ruined by a drone
Natalie Carsey had hoped to take Immy and Patrick to Lapland
Finance director Natalie Carsey, 43, had saved up all year to take her children Patrick, nine, and Immy, seven, on a day trip to see Father Christmas in Lapland.
Mrs Carsey, from Hertfordshire, said: ‘We had saved all year, and waited all year, for this. My daughter Immy has been crying since finding out.
‘I’ve been ringing around desperately trying to find another holiday but they’re all booked. The travel agents are going to try to give us a full refund but it’s very disappointing.
‘We’re heartbroken. Seeing Immy cry has made me tearful.’ Angry father Rob Threadgold was at the airport to take his two young sons on another ‘Santa flight’ to Lapland.
He tweeted: ‘To whoever is doing this at Gatwick. I wish you could see my kids right now and the devastation you have caused.’
Sally Gardiner, who is in Nice, France, said: ‘The problems caused by this malicious person extend way beyond Gatwick. My son was to join me in Nice today for a break before Christmas.
‘I don’t see him very often so my disappointment is immense.
‘I have also paid in advance for his accommodation.
‘I have French friends who were due to fly from Nice to Gatwick tomorrow for connecting flight to USA to spend Christmas with families there. The knock on effect is massive.’
Gatwick’s runway only reopened at 6am today having been shut since Wednesday night due to devices flying over it, with chief executive officer Stewart Wingate saying they were designed to ‘close the airport and bring maximum disruption’.
Thousands of families faced heartache as the chaos at Gatwick left holiday plans in ruins.
Children wept as they learned their flights were cancelled, and plans for family reunions were abandoned, just days before Christmas.
Some were left in limbo, waiting for hours at the packed airport to learn if their flights would finally go ahead. Tempers frayed as stranded passengers crammed into every available space, and berated airline staff for the lack of any updates.
Andy Ravenscroft with children Anders and Erica as the chaos at Gatwick Airport continues
Timeline: How drones shut down Gatwick
9pm, December 19: Drone is first spotted by airport staff hovering near the runway causing flights to be grounded or diverted.
9.15pm: It appears again leading Gatwick bosses to believe it is a deliberate act.
9.30pm, midnight: The drone is seen at least five more times in that period
3.01am, December 20: Airport re-opens its runway after the all clear is given
3.45am: Drone is seen again and flights are again grounded
7am: Small unmanned aircraft appears again
9am: Another sighting of the drone as police start hunting perimeter of the airport
Midday: Police are unable find the drone pilot despite it appearing again at lunchtime with Gatwick saying all flights are grounded until at least 4pm
2pm: Airport admits it has ‘no idea’ when it will re-open as police struggle to find the pilot
3pm: The drone is spotted again as it buzzes across Gatwick’s runway. It was just minutes after airport bosses announced they had hoped to re-open at 4pm.
4pm: Drone spotted flying over the runway yet again.
5pm: Ministry of Defence confirms that it is using specialist equipment to seek out the drone
8pm: Gatwick tells passengers not to come to the airport on Friday as drone buzzes across terminals
8.30pm-9.30pm: Another sighting of the drone on Thursday evening
10pm: The last known sighting of the drone hours after Army is deployed
3am, Friday December 21: Airport bosses deem the airspace is clear
6am: Gatwick re-opens the runway
A couple due to be married tomorrow and their wedding party face further uncertainty at Gatwick following the flight disruption caused by drones.
Bride-to-be Tayo Abraham and her partner Ope Odedine were due to fly to Marrakesh in Morocco on Wednesday alongside nine family and friends.
The group boarded the Air Arabia flight, due to depart at 8.40pm, and were kept onboard ‘in the dark’ until 2am.
Miss Abraham, 31, a contractor from Glasgow, said: ‘It’s been a year that we’ve been planning this, we can’t start rearranging the wedding.
‘It’s sad because it’s Christmas time and people are trying to get to loved ones. Everything has been disrupted but aside from the cost it’s the emotional side, the trauma.’
The group, including a four-year-old and a one-year-old, booked a hotel for the night after passengers were told to return to the airport at 11am yesterday.
Following another day of disruption, Ms Abraham and her fiance then booked an alternative flight from Manchester Airport for this morning at a cost of over £1,000.
She said they may have to ‘trim’ back on guests as the additional cost of rebooking flights was too high for everyone to pay.
She said: ‘Most of the guests are there already. We have to be there. I just want to get there and get this over with, but it will be disappointing for everyone that isn’t able to travel.’
The couple are due to fly back on December 26, with other members due to return to the UK on Sunday.
Ms Abraham’s uncle Baba Sanwo, from San Diego, flew into Heathrow from the US on Tuesday in anticipation of Wednesday’s flight, hoping to travel as a family.
The 63-year-old said he had been sat on the floor of Gatwick for over five hours.
He said: ‘I’m uncomfortable, cold and hungry. What if there are people on medication, what if there was a wedding today?
Robert and Susan Pocknell only moved 20ft despite queuing for almost four hours at Gatwick
Can passengers stuck abroad claim refunds?
Travel insurance customers affected by the Gatwick chaos will be able to make claims for the disruption they have suffered – if this is part of their policy – insurers have said.
But the ABI said the first point of contact for consumers should be the airlines, who have a duty of care to look after their customers ‘regardless of the exceptional circumstances’.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority said on Thursday the events at Gatwick are considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.
In such circumstances airlines are not obliged to pay financial compensation to passengers affected by the disruption.
But airlines do still generally have a duty of care to customers, which could include giving refunds for cancelled flights, putting people on alternative flights and providing refreshments for those affected by delays, the ABI said.
The ABI said that, where people have bought travel disruption cover as part of their insurance, they are covered up to the limits stated in the policy for travel disruption.
It said this is generally included within most travel insurance policies, including those bought through packaged bank accounts.
Stella Phillips, the bride-to-be’s aunt, from London, said: ‘There’s no information. Gatwick have been fine but they don’t have any information for you, they say go to your airline.’
The 41-year-old said the group paid £300 for the hotel on Wednesday and they are unsure whether they can recover the costs.
Mrs Phillips said: ‘This kind of thing can be avoided. You’re saying you’re trying to prevent loss of life, but you know it’s a drone.
‘Couldn’t they have brought the military in ages ago? It might take another 24 hours for them to do what they want to do.’
Meanwhile Gisele Fenech, 43, who was travelling to Malta, was among those stranded at the airport yesterday.
‘We’re meeting family and it’s my daughter’s birthday today so it’s gone all wrong. We’ve been looking forward to this for so long,’ she told AFP. ‘Everyone’s trying to get home for Christmas.’
Musab Rashid, 22, who was going to Copenhagen, said: ‘It’s wrong, it’s childish of them to do this, because it’s affected more than 100,000 people.’
Meanwhile Andrew and Siv Ravenscroft were on their way to a Christmas family reunion in Norway with children Anders, 12, and nine-year-old Erica.
The family had flown from their home in Jersey to Gatwick on Wednesday night to catch a flight to Oslo, but their first flight was diverted to Stansted, where their plane was kept on the tarmac for three hours.
They paid £180 for a taxi from Stansted to Gatwick, only to find that their next flight from Gatwick to Oslo had been cancelled.
In desperation, the family spent another £1,000 for four tickets from Heathrow on a flight today. Mr Ravenscroft, 50, said: ‘When we landed at Stansted we were stuck on the tarmac for three hours.
‘People were shouting, saying they just wanted to get off.
‘We were told there would be three coaches to get us to Gatwick, but there was nothing. We had to pay £180 for a taxi.
‘We finally arrived at 3.30am for a 9am flight. They let us check our bags in so we thought we were travelling, then they called us to the gate and gave them back.
‘We’ve now paid £1,000 for four one-way tickets to Norway for Friday morning from Heathrow. We’re worried there will be a knock-on effect at other airports and we might not even make it.’
He added: ‘The drone is really worrying. Anything could have been dropped on the runway. It’s no wonder they take it so seriously.’
Pensioners Robert and Susan Pocknell were due to fly to Spain for Christmas.
They arrived at Gatwick shortly before 4am but were greeted by scenes of chaos, and had to join a massive queue to try to change flights.
After queuing for almost four hours, the couple from Hillingdon, West London, had moved barely 20ft in the queue, which stretched around the south terminal.
Mr Pocknell, 78, said: ‘Everybody was arguing. There was no organisation whatsoever. No one even showed us where this queue was, we had to find it ourselves.
‘We’re going on a package holiday so I’m worried if we don’t get to Malaga before Sunday we’ll lose our room and won’t have a hotel to stay in. I just want a refund and a new flight.
‘We haven’t even been offered any vouchers to get a bottle of water. It’s a shambles.’
His 70-year-old wife added: ‘We’re British, so we just have to smile and get on with it. I’m more peeved that I might have to go home and cook.’
Gatwick Airport 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.