More than 15,000 passengers who were hoping to be on an Easter break are waking up in the wrong place after Stansted Airport shut down because of a fire on a bus.
On one of the busiest days of the year for the Essex airport, a blaze broke out shortly after 4pm on a shuttle bus parked outside the terminal.
With clouds of black smoke from the fire infiltrating the building, travellers in the check-in area were moved to the airside zone for their safety.
As a result no flights could depart until everyone was re-screened and the airside area swept by security staff to ensure no passengers had stayed behind.
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.
At least one plane which was about to take off was ordered back to the terminal.
Joe Cashman was aboard the Ryanair Boeing 737 which was preparing to depart for Barcelona. He tweeted: “Going down the runway at Stansted then turned around and now must get off the plane because there was a bus on fire 45 minutes earlier. This is some joke.
“The planes already boarded could have been let fly at least.”
Inbound flights were diverted to Birmingham, East Midlands and other airports, with passengers continuing their journeys by bus.
Over 100 flights were diverted or cancelled as a result of the fire.
Most of the cancellations were on Ryanair, which grounded around 80 departures and arrivals. They included popular city-break departures to Venice, Prague and Barcelona, and flights to Mediterranean destinations including Ibiza, Malaga and Palermo.
On easyJet, services to and from Amsterdam, Bilbao and Naples were cancelled.
Stephen Fottrell, a BBC journalist, was booked on Ryanair to Shannon. He told Radio 5 Live: “We were standing outside in the wind and rain for two hours.
“It was chaos, with very few ground staff.”
Passengers who were waiting for delayed services saw them simply vanish from the screens.
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.
The numbers of travellers affected makes it most unlikely that seats will be found on Saturday flights. Many are already fully booked, and so passengers on short breaks will have little option but to abandon their trips.
While they can reclaim their air fare, no compensation will be paid because the event was beyond the control of the airlines.
Travellers who have booked accommodation or car rental separately may still be liable to pay for it, and will have to try to claim on travel insurance.
Passengers who decide to continue with their journeys could be told that their airline has no seats for several days. If so, they can insist that the airline pays for a flight on a rival carrier.
Stansted Airport is owned by the Manchester Airports Group. Last summer, Manchester’s Terminal 3 was evacuated due to a suspect piece of luggage being identified, causing dozens of cancellations. After a controlled explosion, the baggage was found to be harmless.
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