Gatwick Airport delays: Tens of thousands more passengers to be affected on second day of closure

Disruption set to get worse before it gets better

Simon Calder
Thursday 20 December 2018 21:51
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Gatwick airport traveller chaos

Tens of thousands more passengers are set to join the ranks of the 100,000-plus travellers whose Christmas plans are in tatters as a result of the closure of Gatwick Airport.

A spokesman said those booked to travel "should check the status of their flight with their airline and not travel to the airport if their flight is not confirmed."

They added: "We have called in additional staff right across the airport, many from Christmas leave, and are working tirelessly with police and security partners to halt this drone flying and thank passengers for their continued patience.

"We share passengers’ real anger and frustration with the disruption and disappointment this criminal and reckless behaviour has brought at Christmas time, keeping them apart from family and friends.”

The Independent has identified 48 cancellations on easyJet alone, with multiple round trips to Amsterdam and Barcelona and longer routes such as Madeira and Marrakech among the grounded jets.

The airline is telling passengers: “A large number of our aircraft have diverted to airports away from Gatwick and are not available to operate your flight tomorrow.”

Norwegian, which has also made many cancellations, is telling passengers: “ We would advise our passengers not to travel to London Gatwick at this time.

“If you are already at the airport, we recommend that you return to your home/hotel.”

Friday 21 December is the busiest day of the winter at most large UK airports, but at Gatwick it is planned to be Sunday 23 December.

Arrivals and departures were halted on Wednesday night when there were relatively few flights waiting to leave, but dozens coming in to the Sussex airport on their final flights of the day.

Diversions began shortly afterwards. An average of one flight was cancelled every two minutes at Gatwick – representing around 160,000 people whose immediate future is uncertain.

The several thousand passengers diverted to Stansted, Southend and Luton were relatively fortunate; diversions became steadily more extreme once airports in the London area filled up. Aircraft landed in Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and even Paris and Bordeaux in southwest France.

Passengers coming in from New York flew around over Bristol for a while then diverted to Liverpool. The morning wave of inbound flights from the Caribbean, the US and Hong Kong, due in at around dawn, were diverted to a range of British and European airports.

A number of transatlantic travellers found themselves deposited in Shannon in the west of Ireland rather than West Sussex.

Many passengers had to sleep on the floor of various airports because no hotel rooms were available.

“What a shambles,” said Ricardo Versani from London, who had spent 15 hours failing to fly to New York with his family on Norwegian. Six of those hours were spent standing in a queue that stretched across most of the length of the South Terminal. “None of these companies have a clue what they are doing. Treat us like adults. give us some information. Don’t leave us in the lurch.”

The disruption is set to get worse before it gets better.

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The vulnerability of a key element of Britain’s transport infrastructure to mischief has alarmed the airline industry as much as the government. The precarious finances of aviation do not allow for repeated disruption on anything like the scale experienced at Gatwick.

Collectively, airlines are already more than £10m out of pocket at a time of year when they should be making prodigious profits.

Passenger confidence in the ability of the airport and airlines to deliver a decent service has also been badly shaken – and could be reflected in a shift to other modes of transport.

Rare bright spots in an otherwise dismal day came, surprisingly, from Britain’s much-maligned rail industry. London North Eastern Railway offered stranded travellers between Gatwick and Scotland the opportunity to travel for free, while the disruption-prone GTR franchise offered complimentary links to other London airports.

For a day at least at Gatwick, it was the age of the train.

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