After weeks in which hundreds of flights at the airport have been cancelled at the last minute, Britain’s biggest budget airline has told 180,000 passengers that their departures in July, August and September have been grounded.
The carrier blames “unprecedented” air-traffic control delays, which it says are three times longer than before the pandemic.
It says 95 per cent of the affected travellers have been rebooked on other easyJet flights – leaving 9,000 currently without a replacement.
But passengers have complained about easyJet’s rebooking process, which has seen 18,000 travellers being switched to a different departure date.
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, anyone whose flight is cancelled should be offered a flight on the original day of travel if seats are available on any airline.
Jenny Chan found her planned journey from Glasgow via Gatwick to Marseille in disarray following easyJet’s rebooking. She had originally booked a nonstop from Glasgow to the south of France airport, but that was cancelled earlier in the year.
Ms Chan accepted the one-stop journey – but that was rendered impossible by easyJet moving the second leg a day earlier. She tweeted: “They had me flying from Gatwick a day before my flight with them to Gatwick from Glasgow.
“All flights under the one booking as we were originally flying direct from Glasgow to Marseille but the flight was cancelled earlier this year.”
Passengers who choose to accept a rebooking to a different date can claim any additional accommodation and meal costs from easyJet.
The Independent has also seen examples where travellers have been booked on connecting flights with easyJet through other European airports. They are entitled to a direct flight if one is available on any carrier.
EasyJet chose Monday to launch a seat sale, triggering derision on social media. One prospective traveller tweeted: “Don’t want to plan any flights with a carrier that cancels so many flights these days. Jet2 will get my business from now on. Great record of not cancelling.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, told The Independent: “This is really going to be devastating for many families and people who are looking forward to their plans and ready to depart.
“Trying to source new flights at the last minute won’t be helpful for anybody.”
Passengers whose flights are grounded with less than two weeks’ notice are also entitled to cash compensation of £220 (or £350 for flights above 1,500km), unless easyJet can rebook them on a flight that arrives close to the original time.
Taking so much capacity out of the summer market, in a year when seats are already scarce, will force fares higher and reduce availability for people who have not yet booked their summer trip.
EasyJet insists it is fully crewed and has more pilots and cabin crew flying than ever, but says Gatwick has been hit by air traffic control delays.
On Saturday alone, it grounded more than 40 flights to and from Gatwick, affecting more than 6,000 passengers. Between them, easyJet’s rival airlines at the same airport cancelled a total of eight departures and arrivals on the same day.
On Sunday, dozens more easyJet departures were axed, including flights to the key Spanish holiday airports of Barcelona, Alicante and Malaga. In addition, passengers waiting at Gatwick for the last Belfast International flight of the day, and at Budapest for a flight back to London, had their trips cancelled while they were waiting at the gate.
The pressure on Gatwick, which is the world’s busiest single-runway airport, is felt far more by easyJet – which comprises around half of the airport’s movements – than any other carrier. Since 28 June, the daily late-evening easyJet departure from Gatwick to Palma de Mallorca, flight 8091, has been cancelled more often than not.
A spokesperson for easyJet told The Independent: “We are currently operating up to around 1,800 flights and carrying around 250,000 customers per day and like all airlines, we review our flights on an ongoing basis.
“As Eurocontrol has stated, the whole industry is seeing challenging conditions this summer with more constrained air space due to the war in Ukraine resulting in unprecedented ATC [air-traffic control] delays, as well as further potential ATC strike action.
“We have therefore made some pre-emptive adjustments to our programme consolidating a small number of flights at Gatwick, where we have multiple daily frequencies, in order to help mitigate these external challenges on the day of travel for our customers.
“Customers whose flights are affected are being informed, with 95 per cent of customers being rebooked onto an alternative flight and all customers provided with the option to rebook or receive a refund.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience that this may have caused.”
Aviation veteran Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “I’ve been warning for some time that our UK airport infrastructure, along with continuing people shortages at airlines and ground handlers, cannot cope with the massive summer demand.
“Just when you thought you had secured a flight to your summer holiday paradise, it gets changed and causes more inconvenience and stress.
“Airlines have to get better at planning and delivering, not letting down customers at short notice. EasyJet aren’t the first and won’t be the last to take such action this summer.”
The scale of the cancellations could see easyJet lose future summer slots at Gatwick. Permissions to take off and land are awarded on a “use it or lose it” basis – though last summer, when easyJet and British Airways made many thousands of cancellations, the government allowed the airlines to retain the slots.
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