Flights at Stansted Airport are getting back to normal after more than 100 arrivals and departures were cancelled on Good Friday.
An electrical fault started a fire on a shuttle bus parked outside the terminal at around 4.20pm. It took the emergency services 20 minutes to bring the blaze under control. No-one was hurt, but thick black smoke spread across the airport.
Brad Miller, Stansted’s chief operating officer, told BBC Breakfast: “The wind direction meant the smoke was blowing into and across the terminal. Inside it went very dark.
“Obviously the first thing our people though was: ‘Where is the safest place we can get them to within the terminal?’ That happened to be airside.”
As soon as the decision was taken to take people straight through the security search area, the “airside” area was no longer sterile.
Passengers boarding flights at the departure gates at the very far end of the terminal, a 15-minute walk from security, had to be escorted all the way back to the “landside” area.
The entire airside departures area, as well as aircraft parked at stands, needed to be swept by security staff to ensure no passengers had stayed behind, before the thousands of travellers could be re-screened at security.
The process took so long that, shortly before 8pm, the airport and airlines agreed to keep Stansted closed for the rest of the evening rather than risk impacting the schedules for Saturday and the remainder of the weekend.
“Whilst it was a really difficult call, I think they made the right decision,” said Mr Miller.
More than 100 flights were diverted or cancelled as a result of the fire, representing close to 20,000 passengers at either end of the routes.
In a statement, Stansted Airport said: “Our terminal team and additional staff have worked around the clock to provide welfare assistance to those passengers who were affected by the flight cancellations.
“We apologise to those passengers who were affected and had their travel plans disrupted by this incident.”
Most of the cancellations were on Ryanair, which grounded around 80 departures and arrivals.
The airline is operating extra flights on Saturday to and from Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Frankfurt, Krakow and Milan Bergamo to assist stranded travellers.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “Due to extensive disruptions caused by a fire outside the terminal building, we regret we were forced to cancel a number of flights to/from London Stansted Airport yesterday (30 March).
“All affected customers were notified by SMS text and email and advised of options of a refund, free transfer to the next available flight or alternative routing.
“Our Stansted flights are operating as normal today. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused by these cancellations, which were entirely outside of our control, and we are working hard to re-accommodate all those affected.”
On easyJet, round trips to and from Amsterdam, Bilbao and Naples were cancelled.
Cancelled flight? What you can – and can’t – expect
Q My flight to/from Stansted on Friday was cancelled. How likely is it I’ll be able to take a Saturday flight without too much delay?
Low. The numbers of travellers affected makes it unlikely that seats for more than a handful will be found on Saturday flights, except for the Ryanair rescue flights.
Most scheduled flights are already fully booked, and so many passengers on short breaks will have little option but to abandon their trips.
Q Will I get cash compensation?
No. While if you fail to travel because the airline cancels a flight, you can reclaim the air fare. But under European passengers’ rights rules, no compensation will be paid because the event was beyond the control of the airlines.
Neither does the Montreal Convention – which provides for compensation for actual financial losses — apply. An airline can demonstrate that “it and its servants and agents took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage”.
Travellers who have booked accommodation or car rental separately may still be liable to pay for it, and will have to try to claim for any losses from travel insurance.
Q For passengers who decide to continue with their journeys, what are their entitlements?
The rules on passenger care in the event of flight cancellations are clear. The airline must find hotels for everyone, provide transport and pay for meals until the travellers can be flown to their destination. In practice, though, some airlines may simply tell passengers to sort out their own accommodation.
Anyone who is told that their airline has no seats for several days is entitled to insist that the airline pays for a flight on a rival carrier.
Q How much has this cost the airlines?
Ryanair is likely to have lost at least £3m: partly through refunding passengers who had paid high fares for the Easter holidays, and partly through meeting the costs of the duty of care to stranded travellers. Other airlines, such as easyJet and Jet2, have been less affected.
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