Half-term holiday chaos as passengers report hours-long queues at Gatwick and denied boarding

Exclusive: One passenger claims 46 people were denied boarding to easyJet’s 5am flight to Corfu

Half-term holiday chaos as passengers report hours-long queues at Gatwick and denied boarding

Fears of a rocky start to half-term holidays are growing as customers at Gatwick airport report slow moving check-in queues and issues with boarding.

One easyJet customer claims that she and more than 40 others were barred from boarding their flight to Corfu early this morning, with airline staff selecting who would be allowed to fly based on check-in time.

Pippa Welch says that she and her husband were due to fly to the popular Greek island at 5.05am, but after going through security and getting to the gate, passengers were told the flight had been “downsized”.

Ms Welch told The Independent: “Once they announced the gate number we headed there and waited in the queue. We were stood around for a good 40 minutes with no indication or communication about what the issue was.

“It was then stated that the plane had been downsized the night before and 46 people wouldn’t be able to board - this was decided by who had checked in the latest.”

She alleges that staff let a few extra people on the flight at the last minute, with no clear or fair system used in deciding who was able to board.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 shows that easyJet flight U28755 to Corfu eventually left more than two hours late, at 7.25am.

Ms Welch was offered an alternative flight on Monday, but only one seat was available - in the end, she chose to book an alternative flight from Manchester airport at her own expense, as well as the train to get there. She is keeping receipts in the hope that easyJet will reimburse her.

She said: “easyJet appears to have removed its customer service desk - there is no one to assist at all. Staff were extremely rude and not once did they apologise for the chaos caused.

“Speaking to a member of staff they mentioned that this has been a daily occurrence over the past two weeks and they have been overbooking every flight,” she added.

Airlines do occasionally overbook or “downsize” flights - often due to a change to a smaller aircraft, which could be linked to having a smaller than usual crew available (airlines are required to have one crew member to 50 passengers).

However, they are legally required to ask for volunteers to stay back when doing so.

They should also rebook passengers who are removed from the flight on the next possible flight or journey to their destination, with the same consumer rules as if it were a flight cancellation.

If the airline itself has no same-day flight to the destination, they are obliged to book passengers onto a rival airline or cover the cost.

“They refused to book us onto another airline, saying they didn’t have access to do this,” says Ms Welch.

“There were BA flights that we all tried to book onto but there weren’t enough seats for all who were dropped from the flight.”

She says she is worried that no paper trail or any written or emailed information was provided by the airline: “All we were given was a piece of paper with the customer service number written in biro.”

easyJet denies this flight was overbooked and said that only around 30 passengers were prevented from boarding.

A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately around 30 passengers were unable to travel on their flight EZY8755 from Corfu to London Gatwick today as the aircraft due to operate the flight was delayed overnight and had to be replaced by a smaller aircraft.

“In these circumstances we always endeavour to seek volunteers in advance who are willing not to travel in exchange for compensation and alternative travel arrangements, however this was not possible on this occasion and we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused.

“Those who were unable to travel are being assisted with alternative arrangements or provided with a refund, as well as compensation. We have also provided hotel accommodation for any customers who require it.

“The safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew is our highest priority.”

EasyJet has had a week of mass cancellations, with some 200 flights grounded yesterday amid a systems failure described as “IT systems issues”.

The cancellations continued into this morning, with the airline grounding at least 20 more UK flights at short notice – affecting upwards of 3,000 passengers.

Air Malta passengers waiting during a delay at Gatwick on Friday

(Twitter/Dave Ingham)

Meanwhile, check-in queues at Gatwick moved sluggishly this morning, customers reported on social media.

One British Airways passenger posted a photo of a queue running out into the terminal corridor, beside the moving walkways, and alleged they had ben waiting for three hours to check-in.

Air Malta customers in particular also complained of limited staff available to check-in holidaymakers.

On Twitter, Dr Helen Fidler wrote: “Come on @AirMalta. Only one person checking in and not moved for over an hour. What’s happening? @Gatwick_Airport.”

Fellow passenger Sarah agreed: “It’s ridiculous. Have moved only 15 metres in 40 minutes. Why no separate queue at least for those of us who have checked in online already.”

Air Malta is telling customers: “As announced a few weeks ago, our representative in Gatwick is facing staffing issues. Thank you for your patience and cooperation”.

Meanwhile, Wizz Air customers bound for Rome also took to social media to complain about a lack of airline staff at one of Gatwick’s gates.

“What is happening today at Gatwick?!!” wrote Shelley Abraham “Where are the crew staff to allow us to board the plane! No announcements nothing. Reviews are true - don’t travel with Wizz Air.”

Sarah Guha added: “@Wizzair Waiting at the gate with a two month old baby for our flight from Gatwick to Rome. Where are your staff?! No one here to open the gate and no updates at all.”

“Oi! You appear to have forgotten about the 11.30 from London Gatwick to Rome! A whole plane load of people just stuck outside the gate, nowhere to sit, for more than 40 minutes! Lots of people with little kids. Where are your staff?” said Thomas Hope.

A Gatwick airport spokesperson acknowledged it had been a busy morning but insisted queues were now moving.

The airport is not recommending arriving any earlier than its usual advised times (2.5 hours for short haul, three hours for long haul).

A Gatwick spokesperson told The Independent: “Check-in areas are the responsibility of the airlines and all check-in areas are all operating normally now. The airport is responsible for security and there are also no significant queues for Gatwick security.”

With half-term holidays approaching, many UK families are concerned about the ongoing delays in airports and on airlines, with many being attributed to staff shortages and struggles with recruitment.

The Independent has approached easyJet for comment.