'Sunday shambles': Cork man 'outraged' at passengers' treatment amid Stansted chaos

Darren Norris

A 5am alarm on a Sunday is never good but my early wake-up call came with an additional headache. I had mail. And not the sort of mail you receive gratefully when you have a plane to catch at 8.15am.

“We sincerely apologise for the cancellation of your flight FR901 from London Stansted to Cork,” was the opening line. And so it began...

Passengers waiting at Stansted Airport. Photo: Iwan Teifion Davies/PA Wire

A couple of tube station changes and a Stansted Express later I arrived at the airport. It was shortly after 7am. A scene of chaos greeted us bleary-eyed arrivals. The flight to Cork was one of a number of early-morning flights to bite the dust. The Dublin flight was also gone. As was the flight to Budapest. And the one to Barcelona. And the one to Wroclaw.

The first port of call was obviously customer services. With so many people milling around, it wasn't even clear where the queue began. I joined the right one at the third attempt.

It was obvious a long wait lay in store; just how long less so. The first inkling of how bad things were came relatively early. A woman, a lady who appeared to be her daughter, and a young girl - presumably the granddaughter - had made it to the head of the queue.

It was obvious the oldest woman was in a state of some distress. Suddenly, she grabbed a nearby chair that she then stood on. She claimed, vociferously, that she had been waiting for a flight for 20 hours and said she needed to get home for an urgent medical appointment. Heated words were exchanged; security were summoned.

Moments later, the lady fell to the ground in frustration. Three members of armed police stood over this fragile, vulnerable old lady. It seemed ridiculously heavy-handed. Understandably, the little girl was terrified. Order was slowly restored, the lady wheeled away in a chair after a flight solution was seemingly found.

My wait to get to the top of the queue would stretch to just short of eight miserable hours. The fact only four, at most, of the helpdesks were open contributed significantly to the delay.

A smattering of chairs brought a little comfort, though the majority of us had to stand. Insult was added to injury seven hours in when a member of staff came around, demanding to take back the chairs. Asked why she needed to do so, she responded bluntly: “They should have been taken back hours ago.” Nothing like charm, eh?

At 2.45pm I finally got to the head of the queue. I was put on standby for the 4.50 flight to Cork. A happy conclusion right? Wrong. Of those waiting in reserve, all bar one were accommodated. The odd one out was me.

A member of staff explained they ‘might’ be able to accommodate me on the later 8.35pm flight to Cork. A phone call later she informed me that flight would be delayed, not leaving until shortly before 11pm. That word ‘might’ troubled me.

Was she, I asked, saying she couldn't guarantee me a place on that plane, that a wait that (by then) would have stretched to 16 frustrating hours, might end without success? “You'll be on standby,” she pointed out, “so no there are no guarantees but we'll do our best.”

And so, exasperated, I began another long wait. This time there was a happy ending as I was one of the six that should have left on the 8.15am flight accommodated.

It’s hard to overstate the sense of relief we felt. I was finally going home. Once on board apologies were made for the three-hour delay to that flight. The problem, we were told, was caused by stormy conditions across Europe on Saturday which meant staff had to do extra hours and needed to rest to recover.

In a statement, Ryanair said: "Due to thunderstorms in the UK on Friday night (27 July), Ryanair were forced to cancel a number of flights. The knock-on effect of this and ATC staff shortages caused further disruptions over the weekend including delays and cancellations.

"Affected customers were notified by email and SMS text message and advised of their options of a refund or free move to the next available flight. Ryanair sincerely apologised for these weather and ATC disruptions which are entirely beyond our control."

Though it didn't feel like it, particularly in the agonising minutes after missing out on the 4.50pm flight, I was arguably one of the lucky ones. One man I spoke to during the seven-hour queue needed to get to Dublin to catch a flight to Korea on Monday (like many others, he eventually bit the bullet and made alternative arrangements).

Many others were in a similar boat. Others had young kids to cater for. Keeping smallies entertained and calm for hours on end is quite a challenge.

While not as badly affected as others, Sunday's events meant I was unable to make work, costing me a day's holiday for a day that was anything but relaxing and imposing extra work on my colleagues.

Cancelled flights can't and won't ever be eliminated but the fallout can be dealt with more professionally, humanely and sensibly than it was on Sunday.

Put simply, what people were put through was nothing short of outrageous. I won't be frequenting Stansted or flying Ryanair again.


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