An easyJet passenger who was among a planeload of people delayed for a full day by an Icelandic snowstorm has described the experience as a “fiasco”.
Robert Stephens, 79, was one of the passengers booked on easyJet flight 8846 from Keflavik International Airport, near Reykjavik, to London Gatwick. It was due to depart at 7.30pm on Friday evening, 2 February.
The incoming plane flew a holding pattern over the Reykjanes peninsula – location of Iceland’s latest major volcanic action – before landing safely around 40 minutes behind schedule.
But foul weather and delays with de-icing led to the homebound flight eventually being delayed overnight.
He said: “Due to serious wind and snow conditions the incoming flight was prevented from offloading the passengers for a couple of hours.”
The UK-bound passengers were ready to go, but could not board the plane until the arriving travellers had disembarked.
“The outgoing passengers were shunted from gate to gate with a minimum of information,” Mr Stephens said.
“Eventually we were put on buses to the aircraft. We boarded in appalling conditions of wind and snow at around midnight. The plane was still unable to depart due initially to the weather forecast.
“When the storm had passed the plane had received a coating of snow and the pilot had to call for de-icing. Unfortunately the weather conditions exceeded those in which the de-icing crew could operate so further delay ensued.”
When the weather abated sufficiently for the pre-flight procedure to clear snow and ice from the wings and other surfaces, the first de-icing vehicle to attend the aircraft broke down.
Finally the plane was de-iced. But as the pilots prepared to depart, easyJet’s operations HQ cancelled the flight because the crew would be “out of hours” due to the long delays.
“The delay was not of easyJet’s making,” Mr Stephens said.
“The pilot was exemplary in keeping the passengers informed – including the risk of reaching the limit of working hours.
“After it was cancelled, we were taken off the aircraft at 2.30am. At this point, the incompetence started.”
Mr Stephens said he and the other passengers spent 12 hours between checking in at Keflavik international airport on Friday night and being taken to a hotel at 6am on Saturday – for what turned out to be a stay of just a couple of hours.
The passengers were told on arrival at the hotel that the replacement flight would depart at 6pm on Saturday.
Flight-time limitations meant that the crew would not be able to operate the trip to the UK until early evening, after a suitable period of rest.
“As breakfast was imminent my wife and I decided to shower and breakfast first, then get some sleep, thinking that we would return to the airport around 2 or 4pm,” said Mr Stephens.
Instead, he said: “It really went from bad to worse. The passengers were awoken to be told to join buses at 9.30am to return to the airport. We were deprived of six hours’ sleep.”
When they reached the airport at around 10.45am, the passengers learnt they would not be leaving any earlier than 6pm.
“Passengers with hold baggage were informed that it could only be deposited at 4pm,” Mr Stephens said.
They had to wait “landside” – before the security checkpoint – for a further five hours.
Mr Stephens said: “The airport departures hall was noisy [and] has very limited capacity for waiting and getting a little sleep.
“The only choice for eating was a snack shop and a general store dispensing hot dogs and pizza slices.”
The rescheduled departure was delayed for a further hour to 7pm due to bad weather. The passengers arrived at Gatwick almost 24 hours late.
A spokesperson for the airline said: “easyJet can confirm that flight EZY8846 from Keflavik to London Gatwick on Friday 2 February was delayed overnight due to delays caused by adverse weather conditions in Keflavik leading to the crew reaching their safety regulated operating hours.
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is easyJet’s highest priority and we did all possible to minimise the impact of the weather disruption for customers providing hotel rooms and meals for all passengers.
“The flight to London Gatwick was scheduled to depart the following day. Our transport provider arranged for the transfers to the airport to be earlier due to concerns over the impact of the storm and so to avoid delays and road closures. We are sorry for the inconvenience this caused for customers who were at the airport for longer than usual.
“We work hard to try and ensure our customers are supported in times of disruption. We would like to thank passengers for their understanding and apologise for any inconvenience caused as a result of the weather.”
Mr Stephens disputed the easyJet assertion that concerns over road conditions led to the early departure from the hotel, saying: “The afternoon weather was positively balmy by Icelandic standards.”
He added: “I had always regarded easyJet as being a step above Ryanair but that opinion has been severely dented.”
A British Airways departure from Keflavik to London Heathrow shortly before the easyJet flight was cancelled quickly, with passengers and crew flying out on Saturday afternoon after the crew had rested.
Travellers are not entitled to claim cash compensation because extreme weather is counted as an “extraordinary circumstance” beyond airlines’ control.