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Flight cancellations soar as peak season begins. What should we do about it?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Naples, Faro and Copenhagen were among the 20 fallers on Saturday morning. By the afternoon it was the turn of Bordeaux, Basel and others. These were among the easyJet flights cancelled at Gatwick on Saturday. By mid-afternoon, 34 arrivals and departures had been grounded by Britain’s biggest budget airline from its main base – representing about 6,000 passengers. The reason, according to easyJet: “Air traffic control restrictions across Europe as a result of thunderstorms and capacity restrictions causing disruption.”

Friday – which was set to be the busiest day in the skies of Europe since Covid – was even worse. On top of some overheated weather in central and southeastern Europe and a technical hitch at the key air traffic control centre in Maastricht, all arrivals and departures at Gatwick were suspended for 50 minutes over Friday lunchtime. The cause: a British Airways 777 whose pilots decided to reject their take-off to Vancouver.

As the plane sat in the middle of the runway with the airport fire service attending to the overheated brakes, diversions began at once at the world’s busiest single-runway airport. The Emirates arrival from Dubai disappeared to Brussels, while an inbound BA flight from Malaga diverted to Heathrow – where it stayed, due to passenger action. Stanley Johnson, the writer and father of a former prime minister, decided he wanted to leave rather than wait for refuelling and the planned onward flight to Gatwick.

British Airways and Wizz Air both cancelled a dozen flights, but easyJet’s Gatwick groundings dwarfed its rivals: 78, including some long hops to Cyprus, Turkey and the Canary Islands.

Who’d be an airline passenger? A week earlier, dozens of flights were diverted or cancelled at Gatwick Airport due to staff shortage in the air traffic control tower.

By Sunday morning, it was the turn of a power surge at Manchester airport to grab the headlines. For several hours, nothing could leave Terminals 1 and 2 – and soon incoming planes were being turned away. A few thousand passengers found themselves touching down unexpectedly at Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham or even Ostend in Belgium because the gates were all filled by delayed planes. Around 20,000 passengers found their flights to and from Manchester cancelled. Many of those who were lucky enough merely to be delayed landed at their…

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