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Stansted delays: Thousands of passengers' flights cancelled as lightning strikes spark bank holiday chaos at airport

Flights to Barcelona, Rhodes, Budapest, Dublin and Rome among dozens grounded

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 27 May 2018 19:16 BST
Stanstead delays thousands of passengers flights cancelled as lightning strikes

For the second time in two months, thousands of passengers hoping to fly to and from Stansted Airport over a bank holiday weekend have had their travel plans wrecked.

The overnight thunderstorms and lightning strikes damaged equipment essential for pumping fuel to the aircraft stands. The problem meant that the first wave of flights, which normally starts just before 6am, was delayed.

Many passengers experienced delays of four hours or more. One Jet2 flight to Tenerife is running 10 hours late.

The majority of problems are on Ryanair, which is by far the biggest operator at Stansted — its main base.

Inbound aircraft were ordered to divert because there was no room on stands at Stansted. Flights landed at other London airports, including Luton and Southend, as well as East Midlands.

By 9am Ryanair had started cancelling flights, initially the return legs of aircraft that had been diverted. Departures to Barcelona, Bratislava, Cork, Dublin and Pisa were initially grounded.

Joanne Hickey from Ruislip arrived at Stansted with her family at 6am for an 8.15am flight to Barcelona on Ryanair. The inbound aircraft was diverted to Luton and returned empty to Spain, leaving nearly 200 passengers stranded at Stansted – many of them joining a queue which extended all the way back to International Arrivals.

“Absolute nightmare. Cancelled, no information. Now we’ve been told to collect all of our bags, and we’re just in a huge queue now, maybe to change our flights. It’s half-term — we need to get out today. Not very happy.”

Tracey Mitchell tweeted: “@Ryanair my niece and nephew are currently at Stansted airport no longer going on their cruise as you’ve decided to cancel their flight this morning!

“No assistance has yet been offered to them. Appalling service.”

As delays built, cancellations increased steadily, including Ryanair services to Rome, Athens and Budapest. More than 70 departures and arrivals have been grounded, representing over 12,000 passengers.

The cancellations extend into the evening, with passengers to Toulouse, Glasgow and Shannon among the latest to find out they will no be travelling.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “A number of flights have regrettably been cancelled at Stansted Airport this morning due to an earlier airport fuelling system failure, caused by a lightning strike.

“All affected customers are being contacted and advised of their options of a full refund, a free transfer on to the next available flight or a free transfer on to an alternative routing.

“We apologise to all customers affected by these disruptions, which are entirely beyond our control.”

The scene in the departure lounge at Stansted Airport after a fuel issue led to dozens of early flights being delayed or cancelled (Kate Powling)

Jet2 cancelled a round-trip to the Greek island of Rhodes and another to Nice; easyJet’s afternoon round-trip to Amsterdam has also been grounded.

One outbound British Airways flight departed for Ibiza but flew only 30 miles to Southend to obtain enough fuel for the trip to the Mediterranean. However, it still arrived over three hours late on the Spanish island.

Stansted Airport issued a statement saying: “Due to an earlier lightning strike, the aircraft fuelling system was unavailable for a period this morning. Engineers have been on site and have now restored the system, however flights may still be subject to diversion, delay or cancellation.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and advise all passengers to check with their airlines for their latest flight updates.

The day was expected to be especially busy with families beginning half-term holidays and Irish citizens returning to London after casting their votes in the referendum on reform of abortion laws.

Passengers whose flights are cancelled, diverted or severely delayed are entitled to meals and, if necessary, accommodation at the airline’s expense until they can reach their destination.

Over Easter, 20,000 passengers were stranded when a car park shuttle bus caught fire outside the terminal in Stansted. After the resulting evacuation, dozens of flights were cancelled.

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