‘We’re £1,000 out of pocket’: travellers affected by UK air traffic chaos

<span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Nick, 38, from Hampshire, had flown to the German city of Düsseldorf to spend a four-day holiday with his wife over the bank holiday weekend. But when the couple tried to fly back to the UK on Monday, they joined hundreds of thousands of travellers caught up in multi-day travel chaos as a result of air traffic control failures.

Related: UK flight disruption: your rights and what you are entitled to

They say they were initially stranded at the airport after their flight was cancelled by British Airways because of the technical meltdown. Airline passengers have been warned that flight disruption could persist for days.

Nick claimed BA did not organise hotels or transport for them “and told us to look after ourselves”.

“We saw an option on the app to rebook flights for Thursday but needed to be home sooner, as our children are with their grandparents, who need to get back to work,” he said, speaking from a train en route to Paris.

“My wife and I both missed work on Tuesday, and were eventually told by online customer service that we can claim compensation for a train to Paris and a Eurostar to London, where our car is, but we’re not 100% sure they’ll allow us to claim.

“We’re now around £1,000 out of pocket for a hotel in Germany, the train to Paris, a hotel in Paris and the Eurostar. Luckily we both had our payday – likely there’ll be people who have got no money, haven’t got the ability to just drop £1,000 and will have to give up extra leave days with work now. It’s just very poor. There has been no official communication.”

Ruby Redwood, a 17-year-old sixth-form student from Ramsgate in Kent, was still stranded in Italy with six of her friends after their 10.40am easyJet flight from Milan Bergamo was cancelled on Tuesday.

“After a lovely first holiday without our parents, we were not notified until well past midnight that the flight was cancelled,” she said. “It proved very difficult to get any information about refunds or alternative flights. Some parents offered to pick us up from Paris, but this would have involved navigating Paris as a group of majority girls late in the night, without adult supervision.”

Redwood’s mother, Charlotte Wilson, 51, has joined efforts with other parents to get the teenagers home. “It’s been tricky deciding whether they should wait for a flight or take a coach, because they’re all quite young,” said Wilson. “We didn’t want them to stay overnight unaccompanied in somewhere like Paris. A few of them speak GCSE French but not enough to manage. So it’s been pretty stressful.

“They’ve fortunately had some help from the parents of their Italian friend who had to come home from work and now have seven 17-year-olds staying with them for an extra few days that they hadn’t planned for.

“One of the parents spent literally all day on the phone yesterday trying to get all seven booked on a Friday flight. Only two of them are booked in so far. The extra cost of the delays has been about £100 for each of us – which is not insubstantial, but it could be a lot worse. EasyJet has covered the fares, which is extremely lucky. I’m sure it is a lot worse for other people.”

EasyJet said the first of its two repatriation flights would depart the UK on Wednesday to collect passengers from Palma in Mallorca and Faro in Portugal. These will be followed by flights to Tenerife in the Canary Islands in Spain and Enfidha in Tunisia on Thursday, and the Greek island of Rhodes on Friday.

The airline said: “During this traditionally very busy week for travel,
options for returning to the UK are more limited on some routes.” It added that it was operating larger aircraft on popular routes, including Faro, Ibiza, Dalaman and Tenerife, to provide approximately 700 additional seats this week.

Rachel, 28, from Greater London, got stuck in Palma, Mallorca, when her and her partner’s flights were cancelled on Sunday, initially due to a storm. “We have been severely affected by this chaos,” she said. “We queued for seven hours to get rescheduled flights, which then got delayed by 10 hours due to the air traffic control failures.”

Rachel claimed Ryanair did not provide food or drink vouchers. She said the airline only gave one night of accommodation and offered just €250 compensation per person.

“The flight even disappeared from the board at one point. At 9pm we finally went to board and our boarding passes came up as invalid when we scanned them. We were told that they had removed us off the flight to make space for a family on standby.”

The couple were told the earliest date for a return flight would be Saturday, and that they would have to pay for their own accommodation for several days. “We didn’t know what to do. There’s due to be more thunderstorms this weekend, so we’re now trying everything to get off this island,” she said.

“We’ve booked a ferry to Barcelona for Wednesday, where we will stay for one night before flying to Paris, where we have to travel to another airport to get on a plane to Gatwick. Then we’ll have to train to Bristol, where we left our car. Ryanair changed our flights to the flight from Barcelona to Paris, but we’re a few hundred pounds out of pocket now and may not get any of this paid back.

“We’re lucky to be able to front this, but we’re not made of money. This all has definitely left lots of people in horrible situations.”

British Airways said: “Like all airlines using UK airspace, our flights have been severely disrupted as a result of a major issue experienced by Nats air traffic control on Monday 28 August. While Nats has now resolved the issue, it has created significant and unavoidable delays and cancellations.”

Passengers booked on short-haul flights on Wednesday could move their flights free of charge to a later date, subject to availability, the airline added.

Ryanair said in a statement on social media: “All affected passengers will be notified of their options to change flights (free of charge) to another Ryanair flight or receive a full refund.”