Families trying to get away for half term face 'carnage' at airports
28th May 2022

The worst half-term getaway EVER: Families face massive queues at airports in post-Covid chaos, broken conveyer belts and horrendous delays – while easyJet cancels 200 flights forcing some to sleep on floors

  • Half-term getaways have been blighted by hundreds of cancelled Easyjet flights 
  • Easyjet flights at Gatwick were delayed by five hours before being cancelled
  • Passengers blasted the situation at Manchester Airport’s terminals as ‘carnage’ 
  • They said it was ‘rammed with people, huge queues and big delays setting off’

Britons’ half-term getaways have been blighted by chaos at UK airports, with carrier easyJet cancelling more than 200 flights over the next 10 days.

Passengers have blasted the service at Manchester Airport as ‘carnage’ while a traveller at Gatwick Airport described a five-hour delay before boarding an Easyjet flight – only for it then to be cancelled.

Rob Scott posted online: ‘Carnage at Manchester Airport this morning. Terminal two [is] rammed with people, huge queues, big delays setting off due to luggage not being loaded on to planes due to staff shortages.’

Jimtheboy tweeted: ‘Utter carnage at terminal one at Manchester Airport today. Baggage conveyors broken, hardly any staff, no organisation… total shambles.’

Elsewhere, entrepreneur Oliver Bruce and his friend Harry Bethell drove from Cheltenham to Gatwick yesterday to board a flight to Monaco for the F1 over the weekend.

Passengers have blasted the service at Manchester Airport as ‘carnage’ as the half-term holidays begun

Passengers queue for check-in this morning at Manchester airport at terminal 2 as the half term holiday gateway begins

He said: ‘It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We got to the airport at 2pm yesterday but the flight kept getting pushed back from its initial call time.’

Eventually, the gates opened and by 8.25pm, passengers had boarded the plane -only to then to be ordered to disembark.

Mr Bruce said: ‘We were all told to leave due to “cabin crew working over their allotted time”.

‘I asked the man on front desk, “is it likely to fly or do I need to find alternative options: and he said “I have spoke to the captain and he’s 99.9% sure we will fly.”‘

Shortly afterwards, passengers were sent an email informing them the flight had indeed been cancelled. 

Mr Bruce and Mr Bethell waited at the airport until 11pm before they were eventually escorted back through passport control and drove back to Cheltenham.

He added: ‘It was a total disaster. Nobody was informed what to do, with the next flight being Monday… There was no apology, no explanation of where to go or how to get out of the airport.

‘I feel sorry for those wanting or needing to visit family, loved ones, sick relatives or go to weddings.’

Passengers queue in the underground car park outside terminal 1 this morning at Manchester Airport

In an announcement yesterday, Easyjet said its cancellations would affect about 24 flights per day from London’s Gatwick airport between May 28 and June 6.

It added the cancellations were ‘necessary to provide reliable services over this busy period’.

It comes after a software failure forced EasyJet to cancel around 200 flights on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the company said in a statement: ‘We have taken the decision to make advance cancellations of around 24 Gatwick flights per day starting from May 28 until June 6.

‘We are very sorry for the late notice of some of these cancellations and inconvenience caused for customers booked on these flights, however we believe this is necessary to provide reliable services over this busy period.

‘Customers are being informed from Friday and provided with the option to rebook their flight or receive a refund and can apply for compensation in line with regulations.’

‘Over the next week we will be operating around 1,700 flights per day, with around a quarter of these operating to and from Gatwick.’

Yesterday, Liverpool FC supporters travelling to the Champions League final and families embarking on half-term getaways faced long queues at the Port of Dover and UK airports.

Thousands of fans descended on the Kent port on Friday to board cross-Channel ferries en route to Paris for Saturday’s match.

Nicola Caine (left), 37, from Cheshire, was due to fly from Manchester Airport to Tenerife on Monday in a group of 13 with her husband, children and several family members. They were booked on the EZY1903 easyJet flight to Tenerife South for a seven-day holiday, which cost around £2,500

Airline passengers were also stuck in lengthy queues at airports such as Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted and Bristol.

There is also high demand for sailings from families embarking on trips to the continent for half-term.

The port advised passengers to ‘pack adequate supplies including food and water’ as it is expecting ‘a very busy week ahead’.

A mother has spoken of her ‘nightmare’ experience with easyJet after her flight to Tenerife was cancelled first at Manchester and then at Gatwick – leading to her family being forced to sleep on an airport floor, and treated like ‘animals’.

Nicola Caine, 37, from Cheshire, was due to fly from Manchester Airport to Tenerife on Monday in a group of 13 with her husband, children and several family members. 

The group had booked a package holiday with easyJet to celebrate Ms Caine’s parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and their 60th birthdays.

They were booked on the EZY1903 easyJet flight to Tenerife South for a seven-day holiday, which cost around £2,500.

After their Manchester flight was cancelled, they had to go on a five-hour coach journey to Gatwick to catch another flight to Tenerife. When that was also cancelled, they were told to go to another gate and look at new flights on the easyJet app. Above, exhausted family members on the floor at Gatwick

With no accommodation to stay in and no food, Ms Caine and her family – including her 12-year-old autistic son – resorted to sleeping wherever they could find space

Ms Caine described how the experience was ‘one problem after another’, which was traumatising for her family, especially her 12-year-old son, who is autistic. 

Her ordeal comes as airports in the UK are still trying to recover from Covid restrictions and are struggling to hire enough staff to meet surging demand while Britain faces a tight labour market with more vacancies than job-seekers. 

After Ms Caine’s family group boarded their plane, the passengers waited over an hour due to baggage issues, only to be told that the flight was cancelled.

The mother-of-two, who is married to Dave, said: ‘We were sat on the plane for an hour and a half. A pilot came and said ‘unfortunately, due to staff going over their hours, we are going to have to cancel this flight’.

‘The reaction on the plane wasn’t good at all. My son broke down in tears and screamed the plane down.

‘Then we were told we couldn’t get off because an Emirates plane had just arrived, and they take priority. So we sat on the plane for another 30 minutes.

‘Luckily, the staff on the plane were really good – they let us go to the front of the plane to calm my son down.’

When they disembarked and arrived back in the terminal, Ms Caine said the passengers were not greeted by easyJet staff. Instead, Manchester Airport staff advised passengers to download the flight company’s app to rebook new flights.

But there were more issues with the easyJet app, Ms Caine claimed.

‘It was an absolute nightmare – it was freezing cold,’ said Ms Caine. ‘My husband and I had to lie on the floor. EasyJet didn’t even provide food vouchers. The children were tired and upset. You wouldn’t even treat animals the way we have been treated’

She continued: ‘Everyone was trying to get on the app, but it was crashing. No-one could get on it at all.

‘The app didn’t work because we were on a package holiday. While we were stood there, two cancelled easyJet flights came through from Turkey and Egypt.

‘So we were left, all these people from three flights, not knowing what would happen. Luckily, we live 30 minutes from the airport, so we decided to come home.

‘We didn’t know whether to unpack because we didn’t know whether we would be going on holiday or not.’

At 5:30am, Nicola received a text, telling her to be at Manchester Airport for 10:30am, where a coach would take them to Gatwick Airport to catch a flight to Tenerife at 7:10pm that evening.

‘We were absolutely devastated,’ she said. ‘We had not slept all night because my son was crying.

Huge lines of passengers were seen at London Gatwick Airport on Friday as people waited to check in for British Airways flights

‘I just thought, how can I go on a coach for almost five hours and sit in an airport for three hours, and then go on a four-and-a-half hour flight? EasyJet said it was a suitable alternative and that we would lose our money if we didn’t go on that trip.’

After arriving at Gatwick Airport, Ms Caine quickly booked her son for an antigen test, as his PCR had run out.

At the gate, waiting to board the flight to Tenerife, the passengers had to wait over 30 minutes while the plane was cleaned. They were then told by easyJet that they could no longer operate the flight, but stand-by crew would be there for the flight in an hour.

What’s causing the delays and chaos at airports? 

British Airways and easyJet have both been removing thousands of flights from schedules in recent months at Gatwick and Heathrow airports amid staff shortages.

The airlines say most travellers have been given at least a few weeks’ notice, although the situation this week has been compounded by an IT glitch affecting easyJet.

There are also issues recruiting for roles such as security staff, ground handlers and check-in staff which is seeing passengers advised to arrive much earlier than normal for their flights because they are facing long queues.

While many businesses in the aviation sector are struggling to rehire staff after many were let go during the pandemic due to a collapse in demand thanks to successive lockdowns, high levels of staff sickness for those who are still employed is also having an impact.

And as they continue to battle with a tight labour market that has more vacancies than job-seekers, airlines have not been able to recruit staff quickly enough after most foreign travel has been reopened over the last year – with the removal in restrictions both in the UK and abroad in recent months causing even greater demand.

The Unite union said there are ‘chronic staff shortages across the board’, and that ‘current pay and conditions in the industry are so poor that workers are voting with their feet’, adding: ‘It can only be resolved by offering higher wages and better working conditions for staff.’

Union officials added that many airport staff are being asked to work extra hours, and ‘relying on staff overtime to run the business can’t be a long-term solution’.

The situation is also not expected to improve any time soon – with the European Travel Commission saying air travel within Europe is set to recover to pre-pandemic levels this summer, although visitors from outside the region will likely be down 30 per cent from 2019.

They were then asked to return to departures, which raised alarm bells for Ms Caine, who suspected that the flight would be cancelled.

She said: ‘I questioned the staff because I knew this had happened the night before. They assured me that everything was fine.

‘But we had to go back to departures, which was a tell-tale sign that we weren’t getting back on the plane. So we went back to departures and stood at the customer service desk for another 45 minutes.

‘Again, there were no easyJet people there. At 9pm, we all got an email to say the flight was cancelled.’

The passengers were asked to move to another gate and look at new flights on the easyJet app.

‘I was so angry because I had heard it all the night before,’ she continued. ‘I told the staff, this happened at Manchester Airport, we cannot book new flights on the app because we are have a package holiday.

‘A police officer advised us to stay in a hotel overnight. We said, why should we have to do that? There should be a level of service – and the nearest hotel was £690 for the night.

‘We came back to the terminal and met the other passengers, not knowing whether we were going to fly, or get taxis for another four hours to go home- because what if easyJet book us another flight?’

Exhausted, the family decided to stay in the airport to wait for news of another flight. With no accommodation to stay in and no food, Ms Caine and her family resorted to sleeping wherever they could find space.

Her 60-year-old mother was lying on the floor and her children were sprawled across dining table chairs.

‘It was an absolute nightmare – it was freezing cold,’ she said.

‘My husband and I had to lie on the floor. EasyJet didn’t even provide food vouchers.

‘The children were tired and upset. You wouldn’t even treat animals the way we have been treated.’

A new flight was arranged – but with a three-hour delay. Ms Caine’s parents, who were on a separate booking, went to check in for their new flight and were informed that their seats were not allocated on the flight.

She said: ‘At this point, we decided, we cannot subject the children to this any longer. We decided to go home. The woman on the easyJet hotline was so helpful, she said it was completely unacceptable and organised taxis to take us home.

‘It was another four-and-a-half hour journey back home. And my parents found out they weren’t allocated seats on their flight – they were on stand-by.

‘When we looked at the app, we found out we weren’t allocated seats, either. If we had stayed at Gatwick, we would have been on standby. It’s been one problem after another. I would never ever fly with easyJet again.’

The experience has been distressing for the family, as they had eagerly looked forward to celebrating Ms Caine’s parents’ birthdays and their wedding anniversary in Tenerife.

She added: ‘My daughter kept crying and saying, ‘we waited two years for this, mum’. My son was very frustrated with all the delays. I had to distract and reassure him.

‘When the flights were cancelled, he was screaming uncontrollably and crying. Because of his autism, this will be something that will never go away now.

‘Every time we go on holiday now, he will fret about cancellations, because it happened three times.

‘It’s traumatic for him to have a Covid test – we have to hold him down. Everything adds up and it has been an absolute nightmare.’

Better communication from easyJet would have made the situation easier, Ms Caine suggested, as the passengers felt ‘stranded’.

She added: ‘We have paid all this money to go on holiday and easyJet have not had the decency to put us up somewhere or offer us information. 

All I needed was information. If someone had said to us, ‘you will receive an email with new flight details. If you live nearby, you can go home. If not, we can put you in accommodation’.

‘That would have put so many people’s minds at ease. We expect to be told what is going on, not left in the dark for three days. I would hate for this to happen to anybody else.’

A spokesperson for easyJet said: ‘Unfortunately, we were unable to operate the EZY1903 from Manchester to Tenerife on Monday, due to air traffic control restrictions earlier in the day leading to the crew reaching their maximum operating hours. We’re very sorry that the flight the family transferred on to from Gatwick was also cancelled.

‘We always aim to minimise the impact on our customers, providing them with the options to transfer to an alternative flight free of charge, or receive a refund or a voucher. Our customer team are in touch with the family to talk them through their options.’

This week, the budget airline cancelled flights across the UK due to an IT failure and has apologised for the cancellations and disruptions caused.

Huge queues at airports for families hoping to go on half-term breaks

The half-term getaway for families in Britain ground to a halt on Friday as thousands faced huge queues at airports across the country amid widespread staffing shortages – with more than 30,000 easyJet passengers also affected by hundreds of flight cancellations.

Airports in the UK are still struggling to recover from Covid restrictions and are struggling to hire enough staff to meet surging demand while Britain faces a tight labour market with more vacancies than job-seekers. 

Compounding the problem, an IT crash hitting easyJet left the holiday plans of families in the lurch. The airline cancelled 14 more flights to and from London Gatwick Airport today after calling off more than 200 yesterday.

There were queues of passengers at London Heathrow Airport on Friday morning as families aimed to go on their half-term holidays

Liverpool football fans hoping to reach the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris were also faced chaotic journeys after flights to the French capital were axed from Manchester and Bristol.

Other fliers suffered more than 360 delays with routes such as Belfast to Corfu and Liverpool to Dalaman also affected by the disruption, which poses a serious threat to families’ half-term holidays if the issue reoccurs.

Those jetting off from Gatwick, Bristol and Manchester airports have been among the worst hit, with travellers describing scenes of chaos during and either side of the two hours when the IT failure hit on Thursday at 1pm.

There were also huge queues Luton and Heathrow on Friday morning, and the Unite union warned that the problems could continue next week and even get worse during the summer holidays because of staff shortages.

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