Tens of thousands of half-term holidaymakers have had their easyJet flights abruptly cancelled as a result of Storm Dennis.
Britain's biggest budget airline has so far grounded around 350 flights over the weekend. Cancellations include dozens of departures to the main ski airports in the Alps as well as far-flung destinations in the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco.
By far the highest number of cancelled flights – nearly 100 – are to and from Gatwick on easyJet on Saturday.
Luton and Bristol airports also have dozens of grounded easyJet flights. Southend, Newcastle and Edinburgh are also affected.
The cancellations appear to be pre-emptive to try to create enough slack in the system to allow the rest of the schedule to operate.
Gatwick has the busiest runway in the world. From Heathrow, around 60 flights are grounded – most of them on British Airways, but Aer Lingus, Air France, Lufthansa and Swiss have also cancelled flights to their hubs.
On Sunday, easyJet has cancelled more than 60 flights – many of them to and from Geneva, the main airport for the French and Swiss Alps.
In addition many services to the Canaries, mainland Spain and Portugal have been axed.
A spokesperson for easyJet said: “We are doing everything possible to minimise the impact of the disruption for our customers and to arrange alternative travel. We will also provide hotel rooms and meals for customers who require them.”
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, an airline that cancels a flight has a strict duty of care to provide replacement transport as soon as possible, plus hotels and meals appropriate to the passenger’s wait.
Unfortunately easyJet has neglected to tell stranded passengers that they are entitled to a flight on a rival airline; the information provided to passengers suggests that only two options are available: a refund or rebooking on another easyJet flight.
Numerous travellers have contacted The Independent to say that they have been offered a replacement easyJet departure in several days’ time.
Some families have chosen to drive to the Alps, but for island or North African destinations such as Marrakesh and Agadir, that is not an option.
Many passengers complained that the easyJet website, app and customer service line were all unhelpful.
Jill Cox tweeted: “easyJet are SO out of order. Can’t call, change online or do anything with our Bristol to Seville flight today, ruined our half term with less than 24 hours notice.“
Debbie Rainsford said: “My easyJet app says ‘flight cancelled to Naples’ tomorrow morning. No email received at all.
“I have been on the phone for 90 minutes to easyJet (still on hold) and the website is just spinning round and round when you try to ‘manage your disruption’.”
Compensation is not payable under European air passengers’ rights rules, as the cancellations are beyond the airlines’ control.