Chaos on roads, rail and in the sky... it must be Easter
Strikes in France and Spain set to leave tens of thousands of passengers stranded at home
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 04 April 2012
Tens of thousands of people hoping to spend Easter abroad found their travel plans in tatters yesterday, frustrated by a French air-traffic controllers' strike.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled and many others delayed by the industrial action, which is in protest against plans to cut jobs at France's regional hubs.
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair between them cancelled more than 200 flights – mostly to and from France, but with other destinations affected by the controllers' stoppage. Departures from Liverpool, Luton and Gatwick to Nice were among those cancelled, with severe delays on other routes – an Alicante-Glasgow flight was seven hours late.
EasyJet told passengers that it had "been forced to make a large number of cancellations and many other flights are subject to delays". The airline grounded more than 100 flights.
Around 90 Ryanair flights were affected. British Airways cancelled far fewer departures, but some passengers from Gatwick to Spain, Italy, Algeria and Holland found their planes grounded.
Many people took to Twitter to vent their frustration with the disruption.
"French strike has caused disruption across Europe. My Gatwick to Manchester flight has been cancelled. On a coach to Heathrow," wrote Martyn Bryant.
"Check in desk at Gatwick is a total joke. Six people on for nearly 200 passengers," wrote another traveller.
Thousands more passengers who were hoping to be home for Easter turned up at airports across France and beyond for their return journey, only to learn that their flight had fallen victim to the controllers' dispute.
Many holidaymakers who found their flights abruptly cancelled could be waiting days for alternatives. As the Easter getaway gathers momentum, flights are heavily booked.
Passengers flying from Stansted over the Easter weekend have seen the threat of a baggage-handling strike lifted. The GMB union and Swissport, the ground-handling company, issued a joint statement saying: "We will continue our talks in an attempt to reach a joint consensus."
British Airways' partner, Iberia, has already cancelled eight flights between Heathrow and Madrid on Easter Monday as the battle between the Spanish airline's management and pilots intensified. The pilots' union has called strikes every Monday and Friday from Easter until 20 July in a dispute over a new low-cost subsidiary, Iberia Express, which is taking over loss-making routes.
Holidaymakers who decide to stay in Britain, and travel by train, could also face frustration. While Maundy Thursday is traditionally the busiest day of the year on the railway, the Easter weekend – and particularly Sunday – is usually very quiet.
Planes, trains and automobiles: UK's transport meltdown
* French air traffic strike has grounded 200 flights to and from the UK, with many other passengers hit by delays of up to seven hours. Iberia flights to Madrid on Easter Monday axed due to pilots' strike.
* Engineering works will disrupt the UK railway network over Easter. On the West Coast main line, some journeys between London and Liverpool are scheduled to take nearly eight hours.
* Trunk roads in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere in Scotland closed due to heavy snow yesterday, with more disruption predicted for today in Grampian, Central Tayside and Fife.
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