A family told the Guardian they were left £1,600 out of pocket after their flight to Sicily was cancelled six days before their summer holiday, forcing them to scrabble to make alternative arrangements.
Juliet and Josh Stott and their daughters, aged 13 and nine, who live in North Yorkshire, were due to fly from Leeds Bradford airport to Catania on 26 July, and then return a fortnight later.
But on 20 July, Jet2 texted them to say that as a result of fires at Catania airport the previous week, it had cancelled their flights and would give them a refund. However, they had already paid out several thousand pounds for accommodation and car hire, and had been looking forward to the trip.
“The only other flight out of the UK on that date [to Sicily] was from Heathrow with British Airways,” said Juliet. “We had to travel down from Yorkshire to London on 25 July, stay the night in a hotel at the airport and pay for parking. At the other end, we had to fly to a different airport [Palermo], switch car hire and drive for three and a half hours to get to our hotel.”
Speaking this week, she added: “We’ve since come back and it seems neither Jet2 nor our travel insurer, the Post Office, will pay our additional expenses incurred, which I’m incensed about.
“Our original flights cost us £1,558. Our four return flights with BA cost us £2,866, plus £359 for the hotel and parking at Heathrow. The difference is £1,667, which is what I’m looking to recoup.”
Stott said the Post Office claims team told them that because the family decided to go ahead with their trip, “they won’t pay up”. She added: “I no longer feel confident when going away that I’m going to be covered for every eventuality … I thought I was buying a product that covered me for everything.
“As for Jet2, they texted and told us they’d cancelled our flights. There was no mention of ‘Contact us and we’ll help you find an alternative flight.’”
A Post Office spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, our customer chose to purchase a basic insurance policy … Customers are given the option to buy a trip disruption add-on … The base insurance plan does not cover cancellation due to the destination airport not being open, although, given the unusual circumstances, this would have been covered by the trip disruption add-on to the policy.”
Guardian Money approached Jet2 for a response. It told the family on Monday that it was “still experiencing some delays in responding to our customers”.
On Wednesday there was a happy ending to this tale – which may or may not be linked to the Guardian’s involvement – when Jet2 rang the family to say it would be paying them £1,555 for their additional costs. “So we are happy with that outcome. Jet2 say it will be with us in five working days,” Stott told the Guardian.
‘I’ll be avoiding UK air travel for a while’
Among the thousands of people who suffered hugely delayed journeys as a result of the recent UK air traffic system failure was Jefferson (who did not wish to give his surname), who says: “I think I’ll be avoiding air travel in the UK for a while.”
He was trying to get back to southern Spain, where he lives, after a trip in the UK. He arrived at Gatwick on 28 August for his easyJet flight just as the system went down.
“Once the announcement was made about all flights being cancelled, the airport turned into a campground – people sleeping everywhere … So, like everyone, I wanted a hotel room for the night. But all the surrounding hotels were already booked up.”
His wife called easyJet and he was eventually booked into a hotel – but when he arrived, he found he had been booked in for the wrong night. “The hotel said there were no rooms left, and I told them I was going to sleep in their lobby … They told me to wait to see if any of their reservations went unfulfilled, but I had to wait until midnight.
“Midnight came, all the reservations were taken, and I thought I was done. Then one of the night staff said they had a room with a broken handle in the bathroom that they normally wouldn’t give out, but given the circumstances he gave it to me. That hotel room saved my life that night, and my sanity! I got a good night’s sleep, breakfast was included, and easyJet covered the bill. They also got me on a rescheduled flight late the next night.”
He finally got home at about 2.30am on 30 August “after having spent two full days in an airport just waiting”.
He adds: “I spoke to a lot of people there, many of whom had worse experiences than me. Many never found a hotel room and had to sleep in the airport, and some had rescheduled flights that were 24 to 48 hours later, which means they would end up waiting far longer than me.”
In a statement, an easyJet spokesperson said that the impact of the air traffic control systems failure was significant, affecting tens of thousands of customers. They added: “Our teams worked around the clock to help our customers as quickly as possible. As this was one of the busiest weeks of the year, this is very challenging; however, we were providing hotel accommodation where it was available and operating additional repatriation flights, as well as larger aircraft on many routes.
“We are sorry that Jefferson’s hotel room was inadvertently booked for the night after he needed it, and we have fed this back to our hotel supplier; however, he was subsequently provided hotel accommodation and meals that evening, and an alternative flight the next day. As we are yet to hear from him regarding any other expenses he may have incurred, we have been proactively in touch with him to settle these. While this was outside of our control, we are sorry for the difficulty this caused.”
• This article was amended on 11 September 2023 to include a statement from easyJet.