Stuck Brits scramble to get home after axed flights

By Faarea Masud & Michael Race
Business reporters, BBC News

Published
Image source, Joel Pennington
Image caption,
Joel Pennington (middle) and friends at the River Rhine in Dusseldorf

Thousands of people have been stranded abroad after flights were cancelled, but while some wait around others are taking matters into their own hands.

Joel Pennington was due to take a three-hour flight to Manchester from Germany. Since his flight was axed, he has spent 25 hours trying to get home.

He flew from Germany to Norway and onto London, where he is waiting to get to Manchester, paying out £700 extra.

He is one of many taking drastic action to get home from their trips abroad.

Airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights over the past week due to staff shortages, with many changes made at short notice over the bank holiday weekend.

While some families never reached their destination or arrived late, others have found their return flights are not operating.

More than 100 flights to and from the UK were cancelled on Monday, according to the data analytics firm Cirium, and dozens more were scrapped on Tuesday.

EasyJet, which is the biggest operator at London Gatwick, has been badly affected by disruption over the past week. The airline initially did not say how many flights it had cancelled on Tuesday, but has now confirmed that 60 have been cancelled to and from the UK in total.

Wizz Air has also been affected, while British Airways cancelled a large number of services in advance.

Joel was due to fly home with Lufthansa, which arranged his alternative route.

The 23-year-old from the Lake District said he was now resting in London at a friend's house as he was "too exhausted" to make the final leg of his journey.

"I've just given up and am staying in London for the night. I can't continue travelling right now," he said.

Mr Pennington says the experience has affected his mental health, and the stress of the journey home has overshadowed the good time he had on holiday.

Image source, Harshall Shah
Image caption,
Harshal Shah (middle) has paid out £6,000 for new flights, accommodation and food

He is not the only one.

Harshal Shah is stuck in Crete after his flight to take his family and two other families home was cancelled on Monday.

Rather than wait for a later EasyJet flight, the group has spent almost £3,000 to fly with Jet2 to Birmingham on Wednesday instead, where they will then get taxis to their homes in London.

Harshal, who spent a week in Crete with his family and friends for their first holiday since before the coronavirus pandemic, said his return flight had been cancelled four hours before it was due to depart on Monday.

He said the next available EasyJet flight was not until Thursday, so he decided to make alternative plans.

Harshal told the BBC he had to pay out £6,000 in total for the new flights, accommodation and food for two further nights and said he had received "no response at all" from EasyJet.

"The communication in terms of everything is shocking," he added. "Honestly, EasyJet, they should not be EasyJet at all - it's not easy at all."

Image source, AlexSettle
Image caption,
Alex Settle (left) and friends say they don't trust EasyJet

Alex Settle, a police officer from Hull, and her hen party of 14 were told their flight from Portugal to Manchester had been cancelled by EasyJet when they arrived at the airport.

EasyJet re-booked them on a Wednesday flight back to UK - but the group were worried about further delays so booked a Jet2 flight for Tuesday instead.

Each of them is having to pay £366 for the new flight and an extra night's stay.

"It's been really stressful, with lots of tears," said Alex. "This has really tainted the whole trip.

The group are due to arrive at Luton Airport in the early hours of Thursday, and are now having to plan how to get back to Hull.

'Very sorry'

Airlines have been being blamed for taking more bookings than they can manage following staff cuts during the height of the pandemic when travel ground to a halt.

But industry leaders have said the government could have done more to support the sector.

The sector has also called for immigration rules on hiring overseas workers to be relaxed to plug staff shortages, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ruled out such a move.

Before Covid, airports and airlines across Britain employed around 140,000 people, but since then thousands of jobs have been cut, including around 30,000 for UK airlines alone.

EasyJet said it was "very sorry and fully understand the disruption this will have caused for our customers".

"We are providing options to rebook or receive a refund as well as hotel accommodation and meals where required, along with information on how to arrange this quickly online or via the app.

"Our customer service hours and hotel accommodation sourcing have been extended to support impacted customers and help get them to their destination as soon as possible."

Additional reporting by Sherie Ryder and Osob Elmi, UGC team

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