Passengers blast Gatwick chaos after diversions and cancellations

Passengers stranded by the chaos at Gatwick Airport today told of families running out of food and trying to sleep in ‘freezing’ terminals and crowded planes.

Pregnant women and young children were resting on the floor, disabled people were on chairs and people were trying to calm small babies amid the travel carnage.  

Some became so irate at being stuck on the ground for four hours at Stansted that one allegedly opened the plane door before another claimed he was a terrorist. 

At Gatwick, most of the 110,000 passengers due to fly are expected to face delays or cancellations, following the continuing disruption which began at 9pm last night.

The airport initially reopened at 3am today, before closing again and saying it would reopen at 8am. However, this never materialised – and it was still shut at 1pm today.

However consumer rights experts say that passengers will not be entitled to compensation due to the incident falling under ‘extraordinary circumstances’. 

At London Gatwick today, Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia (pictured) from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas

Police are pictured at Gatwick’s police station roof today as they use equipment in the ongoing task to stop the drone unleashing chaos in Sussex

This shows where passengers heading for Gatwick have been diverted since 9pm last night

A couple due to be married on Saturday and their wedding party are facing another night of uncertainty at Gatwick Airport following 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.


If you are due to fly from or to Gatwick:

  • Do not travel to the airport before checking your flight status
  • Call your airline and check Gatwick’s website for updates

If your flight is already cancelled:

  • Talk to your airline to arrange an alternative flight – avoid rebooking it yourself if possible
  • If you make any other arrangements, or have to pay for accommodation or transport, keep all receipts and tickets
  • Check with your insurer or credit card provider whether you are covered

The group boarded the Air Arabia flight, due to depart at 8.40pm, and were kept onboard ‘in the dark’ until 2am.

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?’

Stella Phillips, the bride-to-be’s aunt, from London, said she may be unable to attend the wedding if the flight does not take off on Thursday night. 

Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas.

But she said: ‘Who will be the one to break the news to them? Sat in departures with no information. Twelve-plus hours to take down a drone is laughable… don’t they have police drones to send up?’

Carl and Lisa McCluskey, from Lincolnshire, found out from an air stewardess on Thursday that their flight to Egypt was delayed until further notice.

They have been told to check in with their airline Thomas Cook at 6am on Friday morning and, unable to check into a local hotel or make the three-hour journey home, face spending the night in the airport with their two daughters, aged seven and eight.

Mr McCluskey, 44, said: ‘It’s mindless idiots probably, they know what they’re doing to hundreds of thousands of people.

‘They would have seen the disruption to come out again this afternoon.’

The family, travelling with Mrs McCluskey’s parents, said their two-week trip cost about £6,500. 

This evening Transport Secretary Chris Grayling  told Sky News: ‘We’re doing everything we can to make arrangements with other airports to get passengers incoming into the UK, but also to give passengers a chance to get out of the UK as quickly as possible.

‘One of the things we’re going to be doing is temporarily lifting the night-flight restrictions at other airports so more planes can get into and out of the country.

‘Apologies for the residents affected, but it’s right and proper that we try and sort people’s Christmases out.

‘It’s likely to be other London airports but it will only be tonight. We will review the situation again tomorrow but we’re looking to get people away.’

Meanwhile Anne Parsons from pet travel agent Annie’s Animal Ark in Cyprus said she had sent pets from Paphos to Gatwick last night – and they had been in their crates since 6pm UK time.

However, the animals are now stuck on an aircraft in Liverpool because they cannot disembark there. She told MailOnline: ‘Oh what I’d like to do to the drone pilot!’

Jet the dog and Aphra the cat are among the pets sent from Paphos to Gatwick last night. The animals are now stuck on an aircraft in Liverpool because they cannot disembark there

Passenger Mia Manzotti filmed a confrontation between a woman and a man in the airport, which had to be broken up by security when it turned violent.

She said: ‘I think people are just getting extremely frustrated with the way things are being handled, both by airport staff specifically and the airlines in general.

‘EasyJet in particular is making a bad situation worse by providing inaccurate information and minimal updates. It’s a highly emotional situation.

‘A lot of passengers were looking forward to these trips for a long time and to have their plans changed at the last minute at Christmas-time is upsetting.

Dozens of police officers are now hunting for the drone pilot as flights remain delayed today

‘Obviously the frustration is going to manifest itself in different ways, and unfortunately this woman just couldn’t keep it together anymore.’

MailOnline travel editor Ted Thornhill was among those caught up in the trouble, as his Christmas plans to visit relatives in France were ‘ruined’ by the drone.

The father-of-one said: ‘We were supposed to be flying to Marseille to visit French relatives but our 8.40am easyJet flight was cancelled.

‘The only options open to us were to transfer to a late flight tomorrow to Nice – which would have been very disruptive for the baby’s sleep pattern – or book a new flight, which would have been very expensive.

‘So we’ve cancelled the entire trip. Luckily we heard about the disruption before we got to the airport so returned home. Very frustrating.’

Passengers stand by a plane door in Paris today after being diverted there on a Norweigan flight that had been headed to Gatwick. They said staff had started handing out water bottles

Passengers sit on the ground as they wait for announcements at London Gatwick today

A six-and-a-half hour TUI Airways flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick was diverted to Stansted due to disruption caused by drones over the Sussex airport.

But passengers claimed it was ‘pure hell’ on the Tarmac at Stansted overnight on flight TOM687, with some shouting at other travellers and being abusive to staff.

Mother-of-two’s tears as Christmas in her homeland is cancelled 

Mother-of-two Liliana Cabrera broke down in tears on the floor of the south terminal next to her sons Isaac, six, and Leonardo, five, after their flight home to Colombia was cancelled.

Liliana Cabrera with sons Isaac, six, and Leonardo, five, at Gatwick Airport today 

The 42-year-old said she is worried she will not make it back to Colombia to spend a Christmas with family and was ‘devastated for her boys’.

The museum worker, from Greenwich, South East London, said: ‘My family are waiting for me and the boys and I’m devastated for them. When our flight was cancelled, I was crying and the boys were crying – it is just a horrible situation.

‘I have five huge suitcases full of presents for my family and I’m worried we won’t make it back in time for Christmas. We arrived early in the morning and the boys were excited for the flight – I didn’t know about the drone at first.

‘Then we went to check in at 7am and staff took our luggage. There was a misunderstanding at the departure gate and next thing I know, we were asked to leave and we’ve been waiting ever since.’

Having been stuck on the plane – which landed at about 10.15pm last night – for four hours, a man then allegedly opened the door and put everyone on board at risk.

Another then said he was a terrorist – and video footage showed two Essex Police officers coming on board to defuse the situation. No arrests were made.

One passenger, Lyndsey Clarke, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, tweeted: ‘So Gatwick is shut due to drones so our flight TOM687 has been diverted to Stansted.

‘So far we’ve been stuck on our plane for four hours… a man has opened the plane door and put everyone at risk and then another guy says he’s a terrorist.

‘Living pure hell right now. The staff on flight TOM687 have been amazing but unfortunately they have been subject to so much abuse.

‘We all just want to get home. Several passengers on flight TOM687 just making this ordeal so awful, abusive to staff, shouting at other passengers. Police here now.’

Later, she added that she finally off ‘the plane of living hell’, adding: ‘Now to find a taxi back to Gatwick with a big bill – passengers trying to go together.’

And at 5.30am, Ms Clarke tweeted a picture of her car, saying: ‘Never been so happy to see our car. Back at Gatwick finally… eight hours later than our scheduled flight was due to arrive home at 9.30pm… just over an hour’s drive home now.’

After arriving home she tweeted: ‘As for the terrorist… I have no words that someone thought it was OK to terrify an aircraft by saying he was a terrorist when in fact he was using it as an ‘idea’ to get them to let us off the plane, causing many of us to have panic attacks as we didn’t know if he was real.’

Another passenger, Ashley Pollitt, tweeted TUI to praise staff on the flight for being ‘nothing but helpful and informing us regularly’ about what was happening.

She added: ‘I’m sensing you will get a lot of complaints off idiotic customers that put both passengers/staff in danger along with other throwing stupid statements around. 

‘I just wanted to say your staff from the captain to the cabin crew were nothing but professional and informative.’

TUI replied, saying: ‘Sorry to hear that your flight has had to be diverted Ashley, I can imagine this has been an inconvenience. It’s great to read however that our staff have been helpful in keeping you informed during this time.’

Stranded passengers are seen sleeping at London Gatwick today as the disruption continues

Two women sit on a mobility cart as passengers wait for announcements at Gatwick today

It then added: ‘Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us Ashley. We’ll be sure to pass on your kind words to the crew of TOM687.’

An Essex Police spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We were called shortly after 1.35am on Thursday, December 20 to reports a passenger was being disruptive.

‘We attended and spoke to the parties involved. No offences were identified and words of advice were given to the male passenger.’

A TUI UK spokesman said: ‘We would like to apologise to customers travelling on TOM687 which was diverted to London Stansted due to the London Gatwick drone disruption. 

Passengers try to rest on the floor at Gatwick as they wait for announcements today

Passenger chaos at Gatwick Airport this morning, amid chaos for tens of thousands of people

‘While the aircraft was held on stand, our captain made the decision to call police to the aircraft due to a customer’s disruptive behaviour. We operate a zero tolerance policy on aggressive and abusive behaviour on board our flights. 

‘The safety and security of all our customers and crew remains our number one priority and we are doing everything possible to minimise the disruption for our customers during this time.’

Stansted Airport declined to comment. 

Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, said she saw a pregnant woman sleeping on the floor and passengers with infants spending the night in the ‘freezing’ South Terminal.

She said she got to the airport at 12.30am for a 3am flight to Cyprus via Kiev, only to find it had been cancelled and the next connection in Kiev is on Sunday.

Passengers queue while waiting for announcements at Gatwick South Terminal this morning

She said: ‘I haven’t slept since yesterday morning, we are very tired. It’s freezing, we are cold, having to wear all of these coats for extra blankets.

‘There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor. There were people with small babies in here overnight, we saw disabled people on chairs. There were young children sleeping on the floor.’

She said she will have to spend a night in Kiev, but she had been told by Ukraine International Airlines that there may be a chance of an alternative connection through Tel Aviv.

‘Hopefully they will arrange a hotel for us so we don’t have another night in an airport,’ she added.

The arrivals board at Gatwick this morning, showing cancelled, diverted and delayed flights

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.

A Gatwick spokesman said 110,000 passengers were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights today.

He was unable to say how many had already been affected but the first wave of flights is normally the busiest time of the day.

Around 10,000 passengers were affected last night after the runway was closed at 9.03pm. Passengers are advised not to travel to the airport if their flight is cancelled. 

Video footage showed two police officers coming on board to defuse the situation on board a TUI Airways flight which was diverted from Gatwick to London Stansted last night

The TUI flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick (pictured) was diverted to Stansted 

Mamosta Abdulla said he was on an Iraq-bound flight yesterday evening before getting stuck on the Tarmac for four hours. He will miss his father’s memorial service, he said.

‘We got here at 6pm and should have flown at 9.10pm, but we were stuck four hours on the plane with a crying baby, the child was disabled and everyone was sweating because it was so hot in there,’ he said.

Passengers were given a £12 voucher for food, he added, but were left to sleep ‘in a freezing place on uncomfortable chairs’.

‘We are in Iraq with bombs going off nearby and the plane still lands. But here some drones have shut down the airport.’ 

Queues of passengers in the check in area at Gatwick Airport today as they wait for updates

Former bank worker Lexie Heath had to be given a wheelchair after the stress of having her flight cancelled exacerbated her heart problem.

How drones have caused chaos at airports this year

This is not the first time an incident involving drones has been reported at London Gatwick.

The airport closed for around 20 minutes following a similar incident in 2017 as concerns were raised that drone pilots were deliberately trying to film close encounters with aircraft.

And in October, it was reported that a drone ‘put 130 lives at risk’ after nearly hitting an aircraft approaching the airport over the summer.

According to the UK Airprox Board, the flying gadget passed directly over the right wing of the Airbus A319 as it was preparing to land at the West Sussex airport in July.

Last week, a suspected drone crashed into a passenger plane in Mexico – ripping holes into the front of the craft as it attempted to land in Tijuana.

The crew on board the Aeromexico Boeing 737-800 had to request help in order to land the mauled aircraft after hearing a ‘very strong blow’.

In October, a drone collided with a commercial aircraft as it was approaching to land in Canada.

There were six passengers and two crew on the aircraft and the drone connected with its wing, but fortunately it suffered only minor damage, allowing it to land safely at Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City. 

In June a Virgin Atlantic Boeing Dreamline avoided crashing into a drone by just 16ft (5m), in the nearest miss in British aviation history.

At the time, Virgin said: ‘It’s vital that action is taken to regulate the use of drones near airports, and we urge the government to consider further proposals.’

Two months later a drone, flying higher than the 400ft limit, came within 50ft (15m) of hitting a Boeing 737 that was landing at Stansted Airport.

The 73-year-old, who lives in London and was scheduled to fly to Glasgow to be with family for Christmas, said she was not used to travelling alone as her husband died five months ago.

She said airport staff had been ‘fantastic’ in looking after her and that she had been stuck on a stationary plane from 7am for around four hours this morning.

She said: ‘I have a heart problem and when I get stressed it races too fast and sometimes skips a beat.

‘I can get a pain down my arm as well, like pins and needles. This stress has really set me off, very much so. My legs just go.

‘I’m not that used to travelling alone, it used to be with my husband.

‘I’m going back up to spend Christmas with my family. My brother died three weeks ago and now I’ll have the extra stress of trying to organise parts of his funeral. I could have really done without this.’

A replacement flight from Gatwick tomorrow morning has been organised for her, she added.

Christopher Knibbs told MailOnline that he was on British Airways BA2154 from Bridgetown in Barbados to Gatwick.

He said: ‘About 30 minutes before we were due to land this morning – so around 5.30am, we were told that we were going to Heathrow instead and that this was a good thing as it might have been Düsseldorf.

‘Fair point but not really good enough. We were told that Gatwick airport runway will open at 9am so we sat on the runway at Heathrow for three hours, waiting for the 15 minute flight to Gatwick.

‘We were told to get out at Heathrow, after three hours of sitting on the runway. Why it took three hours for BA to decide this I have no idea. A T5 bus took a further 20 minutes to arrive whilst people sat on the runway.

‘Coaches were then laid on to get everyone back to Gatwick. The staff were very good but BA as an organisation – a shambles.’

Grace Lyons told of her anger having arrived at the airport 29 hours earlier – and passed through immigration twice before being redirected to Stansted Airport.

The 32-year-old, from Herne Hill, south London, said: ‘It’s an absolute mess. I’m going home to Ireland and have very little time as it is, this has essentially cut two days off my family time.

The scene inside an easyJet plane today, three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which was closed because of the sighting of drones

‘We have no idea what’s going and the airport staff, although very nice, have no idea what’s going on either.

‘We’ve come through immigration twice. It’s very worrying that a few drones can shut down an airport for so long. It’s very likely this will happen again.’

Patrick Campbell, 29, arrived at the airport at midnight for a 6.20am take off, only to find the security shutters locked shut.

The executive chef was due to fly to Stockholm with Norwegian Airlines to spend Christmas with his Swedish girlfriend.

But after passing through security and spending £100 on duty free gifts, he was ‘spat back out of customs’ and has not slept in almost 30 hours.

Mr Campbell, from Bristol, said: ‘It’s so frustrating, it’s ridiculous. When I first heard about the drone, I thought it was just kids messing around and never expected it to lead to this.

‘It’s unbelievable all the disruption it’s caused and the queues to rebook are crazy – they go back the entire length of the terminal.

‘The roll shutter was locked when I got here at midnight so nobody could get through to security.

‘Security officers lifted the shutters at 3am and congratulated me as the first person to be let through the gates – we were all laughing and joking at the time.

‘I went through the whole security process and spent £100 on some expensive Talisker whisky for my girlfriend’s dad as a present.’

When Mr Campbell arrived at the boarding gate, the screen said ‘boarding’ but there was nobody at the desk and the door was closed.

Passengers were left in limbo until 7.30am – an hour after Mr Campbell’s scheduled departure – when they were told by airline staff their flights were cancelled.

Mr Campbell said: ‘We were all instantly directed away from the waiting area, there must have been hundreds of passengers.

A helicopter flies over the runway at Gatwick Airport this morning after it was closed

‘Anyone with checked luggage had to collect it and queue to speak to one of two assistants at the desk to make alternative arrangements.

‘I started queuing at 8am which feels like a lifetime ago and I am still stuck here and unable to fly.

‘I’ve paid £60 for a week’s parking which I won’t get refunded, I can’t drive after not sleeping for 29 hours and most frustratingly I need to get to Stockholm.’

Passenger Laura Hudson Woodward was ‘one of the lucky ones’ to be transported to Southampton airport for her flight to Guernsey, which was scheduled to depart at 8.30am.

The 38-year-old communications officer is flying with her son to spend Christmas Day with her parents.

Ms Woodward, from Kent, said: ‘We’re now being taken by coach to fly out of Southampton. I’m so relieved to be honest, I guess I’m one of the lucky ones – it could have been so much worse.

‘The airport staff have a lot to manage and seem to be doing their best to deal with the situation.’

Jelly Willmott has lost out on valuable time with relatives in Los Angeles and said she has been ‘killing time’ at the airport shops since she arrived at the airport with her two daughters this morning.

She said: ‘We’ve been stood in this queue for hours so me and the girls are taking it in turns to wander around the airport to stretch our legs.

‘I met people this morning who had a daytrip to Lapland booked and their whole Christmas trip has been cancelled, it’s awful.’

This photograph was circulated today as allegedly showing the drone over Gatwick Airport

But 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.’

Passenger Tim Rodda praised another airline, saying that he was on flight VS44 from Las Vegas to Gatwick, which was diverted to Heathrow.

He told MailOnline: ‘Virgin laid on coaches to transport any passengers that needed to get to Gatwick and I thought the Virgin staff did an excellent job in very trying circumstances.’

** Caught up in the Gatwick chaos? Please email: or ** 

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, 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.

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