Thousands of families faced heartache yesterday as the chaos at Gatwick left holiday plans in ruins.
Children wept as they learned their flights were cancelled, and plans for family reunions were abandoned, just days before Christmas.
Some were left in limbo, waiting for hours at the packed airport to learn if their flights would finally go ahead.
Tempers frayed as stranded passengers crammed into every available space, and berated airline staff for the lack of any updates about the delays and cancellations. Parents turned to social media to express their frustration, posting pictures of children forced to sleep on luggage or curl up on the floor.
OUR FAMILY TRIP TO LAPLAND IS RUINED
Finance director Natalie Carsey, 43, had saved up all year to take her children Patrick, nine, and Immy, seven, on a day trip to see Father Christmas in Lapland.
Mrs Carsey, from Hertfordshire, said: ‘We had saved all year, and waited all year, for this. My daughter Immy has been crying since finding out.
‘I’ve been ringing around desperately trying to find another holiday but they’re all booked. The travel agents are going to try to give us a full refund but it’s very disappointing.
HEARTBROKEN: Natalie Carsey had saved up to take Immy and Patrick to Lapland as a Christmas treat
‘We’re heartbroken. Seeing Immy cry has made me tearful.’ Angry father Rob Threadgold was at the airport to take his two young sons on another ‘Santa flight’ to Lapland.
He tweeted: ‘To whoever is doing this at Gatwick. I wish you could see my kids right now and the devastation you have caused.’
I CAN’T DELIVER MY PARENTS’ PRESENTS
Mother Liliana Cabrera broke down as she learned her flight to take her sons to visit their grandparents in Colombia had been cancelled.
The 41-year-old had planned a three-week trip to Bogota with Isaac, six, and Leonardo, five, and had five suitcases filled with Christmas presents for her family.
The museum worker from Greenwich, South East London, arrived at the airport at 3.45am only to find her 10am flight was cancelled.
STRANDED: Liliana Cabrera with Isaac and Leonardo told how her trip to Colombia was thwarted in the mayhem
Another flight was announced for 2pm but when the family went to the gate, as directed, they were simply given their luggage back.
‘I don’t want to cry but we just wanted to see my family at Christmas,’ she said.
‘Now we’re waiting to see what we have to do next. We’re hoping somehow we can still get to Colombia. [Staff have] said, “You need to go home.” Our cases are full of Christmas presents for my parents and brother and sister.’
IT’S ADDED MORE THAN £1,000 TO OUR TRIP
Andrew and Siv Ravenscroft were on their way to a Christmas family reunion in Norway with children Anders, 12, and nine-year-old Erica.
The family had flown from their home in Jersey to Gatwick on Wednesday night to catch a flight to Oslo, but their first flight was diverted to Stansted, where their plane was kept on the tarmac for three hours.
They paid £180 for a taxi from Stansted to Gatwick, only to find that their next flight from Gatwick to Oslo had been cancelled.
BOOKED NEW FLIGHTS: Andy Ravenscroft with Anders and Erica as the chaos at Gatwick Airport continues
In desperation, the family spent another £1,000 for four tickets from Heathrow on a flight today. Mr Ravenscroft, 50, said: ‘When we landed at Stansted we were stuck on the tarmac for three hours.
‘People were shouting, saying they just wanted to get off.
‘We were told there would be three coaches to get us to Gatwick, but there was nothing. We had to pay £180 for a taxi.
‘We finally arrived at 3.30am for a 9am flight. They let us check our bags in so we thought we were travelling, then they called us to the gate and gave them back.
‘We’ve now paid £1,000 for four one-way tickets to Norway for Friday morning from Heathrow. We’re worried there will be a knock-on effect at other airports and we might not even make it.’ He added: ‘The drone is really worrying. Anything could have been dropped on the runway. It’s no wonder they take it so seriously.’
WE COULD LOSE HOTEL ROOM
Pensioners Robert and Susan Pocknell were due to fly to Spain for Christmas.
They arrived at Gatwick shortly before 4am but were greeted by scenes of chaos, and had to join a massive queue to try to change flights.
After queuing for almost four hours, the couple from Hillingdon, West London, had moved barely 20ft in the queue, which stretched around the south terminal.
WORRIED: Robert and Susan Pocknell had only moved 20ft despite queuing for almost four hours at the South Terminal
Mr Pocknell, 78, said: ‘Everybody was arguing. There was no organisation whatsoever. No one even showed us where this queue was, we had to find it ourselves.
‘We’re going on a package holiday so I’m worried if we don’t get to Malaga before Sunday we’ll lose our room and won’t have a hotel to stay in. I just want a refund and a new flight.
‘We haven’t even been offered any vouchers to get a bottle of water. It’s a shambles.’ His 70-year-old wife added: ‘We’re British, so we just have to smile and get on with it. I’m more peeved that I might have to go home and cook.’
OUR FLIGHT TOOK 35 HOURS
A journey home from Sri Lanka took holiday-makers Stephanie Bund and George Bartlett 35 hours after their flight was diverted.
The couple from Topsham in Devon had already completed a ten-hour flight from Sri Lanka to Kiev, where they caught a second flight to Gatwick.
Once in the air, it was announced that the flight was diverting to Birmingham, where they were kept on the tarmac for hours.
Miss Bund, 28, a leisure centre worker, said airline staff had initially refused to give passengers any food or drink unless they paid for it.
She said: ‘I asked if they had any refreshments and they said “No, you can buy something,” so I said they had a duty of care to us.
‘After we landed they brought us a couple of waters, but later I asked if they had any water or coffee and they said no.
‘I could see shelves and drawers of food. We felt really sorry for the children around us.’ Bizarrely, Miss Bund said she and her firefighter boyfriend were eventually offered four bread rolls and a parsnip as they waited to get off the plane.
They then had to get a taxi from Birmingham to Gatwick, where they had left their car, before driving home to Devon.
£2,000 DOWN THE DRAIN
Nursery manager Charlotte Forrester and trainee teacher Sebastian Hope saved for months for a dream trip to New York. The couple planned the four-day break so they could be back in time for Christmas Day with their families, and spent almost £2,000.
Miss Forrester, from Gloucester, said: ‘I worked so many extra hours to get this time off, I begged for holiday so we could go on this trip. We had it booked for seven months or so.
‘We won’t get this chance again. I only usually get four days off work starting from Christmas Eve because the nursery reopens on December 28 and I have to work.’
The couple had booked £158 tickets for a Broadway show last night, and condemned the drone operators as ‘idiots’.
WE’RE OFF TO BIRMINGHAM
Mother Pam Noakes was waiting to take her young children to spend Christmas with their grandparents in Canada.
The mother-of-two was due to fly from Gatwick to Toronto, but was told at the airport that the flight would be leaving from Birmingham instead.
FRAUGHT: Pam Noakes and her children, aged five and two, are pictured stranded at Gatwick Airport
Mrs Noakes, whose children are aged five and two, said: ‘They’re apparently putting on a coach to Birmingham.
‘It should be leaving soon, because everyone has been told to get their suitcases checked in. It would have been my children’s first Christmas in Canada with their grandparents. We’ll have to see if we actually get there.’
CAN’T THEY JUST SHOOT IT DOWN?
Siblings Sydney and Griffin Powell were flying to the US for a family Christmas.
Sydney, 22, studies at university in Aberdeen but planned to fly home to North Carolina with brother Griffin. But the first leg of their journey, from Gatwick to Boston, was cancelled, meaning they would probably miss their two connecting flight.
Sydney said: ‘We were about to fly back home for Christmas. It’s annoying that this is all over someone flying a drone.’
Griffin, 19, who is about to start a science and communication degree, added: ‘Maybe they could shoot them down with a shotgun but that would also pose a danger.
‘The best thing would be to try to track down the source or try to jam the signal.’ He added: ‘We’re flying home for Christmas. We’re probably going to miss our connections so all the tickets will need to be re-arranged.’
Passengers could still be stranded on Christmas Eve
By James Salmon, Vanessa Allen, Emine Sinmax and Glen Keogh for the Daily Mail
The travel turbulence at Gatwick is likely to last until Christmas Eve – and beyond – amid fears the holidays of more than 350,000 people will be ruined.
Amid chaotic scenes, with families sleeping on floors and queues stretching for hundreds of yards, officials admitted disruption would last ‘several days’.
Tens of thousands of people have already seen their flight cancelled since Wednesday night when the drones were first spotted.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
If you are due to fly from or to Gatwick:
- Do not travel to the airport before checking your flight status
- Call your airline and check Gatwick’s website for updates
If your flight is already cancelled:
- Talk to your airline to arrange an alternative flight – avoid rebooking it yourself if possible
- If you make any other arrangements, or have to pay for accommodation or transport, keep all receipts and tickets
- Check with your insurer or credit card provider whether you are covered
All of the 115,000 people due to fly in or out of Gatwick on 760 flights yesterday were affected, with some having their planes diverted as far away as Paris or Cardiff, and many others unable to fly at all.
Travellers complained bitterly about the airport’s ‘shambolic’ handling of the incident, saying conditions were a ‘living hell’.
Another 125,000 passengers are due to fly in or out of Gatwick today, with a further 120,000 due through the airport tomorrow as the Christmas getaway reaches its peak. There was no sign of Gatwick reopening last night.
Chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe warned families to expect the disruption to last for ‘several days’. He said the priority was to repatriate stranded passengers, and deal with those camped out at the airport.
‘It’s realistically going to take several days to recover,’ he admitted. That raises the prospect that the chaos could spill over into Christmas Eve.
Furious passengers at Britain’s second busiest airport said they were forced to queue for five hours to find out if they could rebook their flights.
Parents had to console children as holiday plans for ‘Santa flights’ to visit Father Christmas in Lapland were left in ruins.
A cancer sufferer was unable to eat for hours as he did not have access to his specialist food. The British man, who only gave his name as Dave, had travelled from his home in Malaga, Spain, to London for his latest bout of treatment.
His illness means he is on a liquid-only diet, but was unable to carry the liquids because of hand luggage restrictions.
‘I’m a terrorist – get me out’
An irate passenger said he was a terrorist in an attempt to force the evacuation of his flight after it spent more than four hours on the tarmac.
The unnamed man reportedly made the claim to get removed from the plane after it was diverted from Gatwick to Stansted. But his plan backfired as other passengers on board the flight from Cape Verde, suffered panic attacks.
Another passenger opened one of the plane’s cabin doors because he had ‘no fresh air’ as they awaited clearance to continue to Gatwick. Police were forced to board the TUI aircraft at around 1.30am on Thursday to speak to unruly passengers, but made no arrests.
The ‘awful’ behaviour by some of those on board was criticised by other passengers. Lyndsey Clarke, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, tweeted: ‘Living pure hell right now. The staff on flight TOM687 have been amazing but unfortunately they have been subject to so much abuse.’
The former soldier told the Daily Mail: ‘They are saying the next flight is December 23.
‘If I have to wait until then I might starve. I think the person who caused all of this should get serious time.
‘The authorities should make him an example to others who even think of doing something like this.’
Passengers described seeing pregnant women forced to rest on the floor, many people in tears and parents queueing for hours in order to buy milk and food for their children.
Hope Lauren Eder, who was meant to fly to New York with husband Daniel, said scenes inside the airport were ‘awful’.
She told the BBC: ‘I saw a woman crying, someone had collapsed at the bottom of the escalator. It’s an absolute shambles.’
Tempers frayed as flights were diverted to other airports – as far away as Paris Orly – and passengers were forced to wait for hours on runways.
Among those caught up was Countdown host Rachel Riley, who revealed that she had already been stranded at the airport for eight hours waiting for her flight. She tweeted: ‘Lots of frustrated people here.’
She later added: ‘Everyone sent home. No news of if or when we’ll be rebooked. Good luck to all the families trying to get away for Christmas.’
Last night, Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate said: ‘On behalf of everyone at Gatwick, I would like to repeat how sorry we are for the inconvenience this criminal behaviour has caused passengers and we share their real anger and frustration that it has happened.
‘This is a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run-up to Christmas. We are working very closely with the police and the security services to try to resolve this for passengers.’