Passengers due to depart today have been told not to travel to the West Sussex airport without checking the status of their flights, while Gatwick warned the disruption will last long into the day, even after the it reopens.
The West Sussex airport said: “All flights to and from Gatwick are suspended due to ongoing drone activity around the airport. Unfortunately, there are significant delays and cancellations to all flights today.
“Please do not travel to the airport without checking the status of your flight with your airline first. We apologise to everyone affected, but the safety of all our passengers and staff is our number one priority.”
In addition to those with cancelled flights at Gatwick, hundreds more passengers have been scattered across the UK after arriving planes were forced to divert. Cardiff, Glasgow and Newcastle airports all had planes waiting on their tarmac, hopeful of a return to Gatwick.
Flightradar24.com showed planes in holding patterns above southern England before being diverting to alternative airports. According to data from Skyscanner, the flight search website, today is the third busiest day for festive travel behind only the December 22 and December 21.
Know your rights: how to get compensation from your airlineh
How long will the disruption last?
Certainly well into Thursday evening. The latest is that Gatwick will remain closed to planes until 11am, but after scores of cancellations and delays, there is a backlog of thousands of passengers.
Though most of the flights on Gatwick’s departure board have been cancelled some have been given an estimated time of departure, with flights scheduled for 10.30am now planned for mid-afternoon. However, even some evening flights have been cancelled.
EasyJet, whose largest base in Europe is Gatwick, said: “The situation continues to affect our flights arriving and departing into and from London Gatwick. As a result of the closure we are seeing delays to flights across our network and have had to cancel a number of flights in our programme. Customers that are affected will be contacted via SMS and flight tracker.”
British Airways said: “Like all airlines at London Gatwick airport, we have cancelled a small number of flights today.”
Am I eligible for compensation?
Yes and no. First and foremost, you are entitled to care under EU Regulation 261/2004. Airlines must provide delayed passengers with food and drink appropriate to the time of day (this is often in the form of a voucher) and a means of communicating your situation or a refund of the cost of essential calls.
For overnight delays, the airline must provide hotel accommodation and transport to reach it – or to return home. When there’s a major disruption, airline staff may not be able to assist in booking hotels. In such cases, you should make your own arrangements and claim the cost back. But don’t expect a full refund for an expensive hotel unless there’s no alternative. Supporting receipts are essential.
Unfortunately, as the airport closure is an “extraordinary circumstance”, as defined by EU law, and beyond the control of any airline, they are not bound by law to pay compensation that would otherwise be due for flight delays.
Coby Benson, a flight delay compensation solicitor at Bott and Co, said: “The airport was closed due to a decision by air traffic control to suspend flights. As matters stand, any air traffic management decision is deemed to be an extraordinary circumstance under EU Regulation 261 and therefore passengers cannot claim compensation.”
What if my flight was cancelled?
If your flight has been cancelled outright, you are entitled to a refund of the cost of the flight or to be rebooked on another.
When a flight with an EU airline or from an EU airport is cancelled at the last minute, the airline must also pay for a hotel if an overnight stay is required and subsistence for all those stranded until a replacement flight is provided. Similar rules and amounts for compensation apply as for delays and there are particular conditions and variations depending on how the circumstances (see caa.co.uk/consumers).
What has EasyJet said?
The airline says that anyone due to fly today should arrive at the airport for their original departure time “as check-in and bag drop times will not be extended”, but advises checking its Flight Tracker service before travelling to the airport.
It says, however, not to travel to the airport if a flight has been cancelled but says instead to “transfer their flights free of charge or take a refund” by managing their booking on the EasyJet website.
It adds: “If overnight accommodation is required, customers can book this via Flight Tracker.”
It confirms that customers “will be entitled to claim for some expenses” but will not be due compensation under EU regulations.
What has BA said?
“All flights to and from London Gatwick airport are suspended while authorities investigate reports of drones flying close to the airfield,” the airline said on its website this morning.
“We are doing all we can to minimise the disruption for our customers at what we know is a very important time of year.”
BA adds that if a flight is cancelled the airlines will always try to rebook passengers onto the next available flight but says “we recommend that you only head to the airport once your new plans have been confirmed”.
It says that passengers are able to claim for any expenses incurred due to delays or cancellations.
What has Norwegian said?
The low-cost, long-haul airline has not issued guidance this morning but says that passengers have the option of rebooking a cancelled flight or a refund for unused tickets.
It also says passengers are entitled to food and drink, but travellers must keep receipts and no alcohol is allowed.
What has Thomas Cook said?
“There is a possibility of disruption to all flights scheduled to operate from Gatwick today as a result of the airport being closed due to unauthorised drones in the area,” the airline said on its website.
“Unfortunately, this had led to a number of flights being diverted to other airports which will impact on our flying programme for the rest of the day. Our teams are reviewing the situation and any revised schedules will be communicated at the airport as soon as possible.
“We would ask all of our customers to check in as per their original schedules to ensure that we can get you on your way as quickly as possible, as soon as our revised departures are confirmed.”
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