Gatwick drones: Airport reopens after three days of flight delays cause Christmas travel chaos

Upwards of 150,000 passengers suffered flight cancellations after closure of world's busiest runway

Simon Calder
Gatwick Airport
Saturday 22 December 2018 11:32
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Gatwick drones: airport reopens after three days of flight delays cause Christmas travel chaos

Gatwick Airport’s nightmare before Christmas appears to be coming to an end.

After three days in which flights were severely disrupted by unauthorised drone activity near the runway, services at the Sussex airport are close to normal.

Since the first sightings of a drone at 9pm on Wednesday, upwards of 150,000 passengers have had their flights cancelled.

The entire flying programme on Thursday, one of the busiest days in the build-up to Christmas, was written off.

Operations began again on Friday morning after military equipment was deployed around the airfield. But a further sighting at 5.10pm closed the airport for an hour, triggering more cancellations and diversions.

More than 750 arrivals and departures are planned for Saturday, and almost all are expected to operate.

Up to 900 stranded transatlantic travellers will benefit from a rescue round-trip flight organised by Norwegian.

The airline has chartered an Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo” from the Portuguese airline, Hi Fly. It will fly out on Saturday evening from Gatwick to New York JFK, and return in the early hours of the morning.

The plane holds up to 450 passengers. The flights are additional to Norwegian’s planned transatlantic services.

Norwegian’s flights between Gatwick and New York were among 1,000 cancelled by the closure of the runway at the Sussex airport

The cancellations have now dwindled to a trickle, mostly of inbound flights: Norwegian from Singapore, TUI from Barbados and easyJet from Milan.

In addition, some passengers will experience long waits. Anyone flying on TUI to Barbados will depart a minimum of three hours late, with one flight a full 24 hours behind schedule.

Norwegian’s departures to Stockholm and Stavanger are running three hours late, and an easyJet round-trip to Faro has a five-hour delay.

A spokesperson for Gatwick said: “Passengers should expect some delays and cancellations as we continue to recover our operations following three days of disruption and are advised to check with their airline before travelling to the airport.”

Some passengers slept on the terminal floor, but nothing like the numbers that were seen on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

With 150,000 passengers affected by around 1,000 cancellations since Wednesday, the prospects of everyone reaching their intended destination by 25 December look remote.

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