On Sunday afternoon at 3.48pm Gatwick closed its main runway, leaving hundreds of passengers delayed or stranded. The airport tweeted that the runway was temporarily closed while its staff carried out investigations, and apologised for the impact on flights.
Operations were switched to the airport’s smaller northern runway, but airlines – including Easyjet, British Airways and Ryanair – were forced to cancel or delay flights, and divert planes into Bournemouth and Stansted airports. The main runway was eventually reopened yesterday evening and flights resumed, but some delays are ongoing.
The cause of the runway closure has not been confirmed by the airport. But on social media, many passengers whose flights were diverted claimed that their pilots blamed runway surface damage for the disruption – a message that had been passed on via radio from the airport’s air traffic controllers. Gatwick was hit by rainstorms and humid weather over the weekend, which may have contributed to the problems.
I’m travelling through Gatwick this week – should I be worried?
Don’t panic. According to the airport’s website, “Gatwick Airport is returning to normal,” with “minor knock-on delays occurring this morning while some of yesterday’s flights are accommodated in today’s schedule.”
Travellers are advised to check the status of their flights using Gatwick Airport’s website (which allows passengers to search via their flight number or location), or to contact their airline directly.
“Gatwick Airport will continue to work closely with our airline partners and do everything possible to assist our passengers and get them moving. Gatwick would like to apologise to everyone affected by yesterday’s disruption,” added a Gatwick spokeswoman this morning.
What are my rights if my flight is delayed or cancelled?
“You are entitled to a refund if the airline cancels your flight,” advises the Telegraph’s consumer travel expert Nick Trend. “European Union regulations require airlines to offer you either a full refund of the unused parts of your tickets, or to re-route you to your destination, as soon as possible. Some airlines may also allow you to rebook your flights for a later date at no extra cost.
“When a flight with an EU airline or from an EU airport is cancelled, an airline is liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and subsistence for all those stranded as a result, until a replacement flight is provided. Should your airline advise you to buy your own food and accommodation, keep all receipts, and keep such costs to a reasonable minimum, before making a claim when you get home.”
I’ve paid for a hotel but now I can’t use it – can I get a refund?
“Passengers on package holidays who are stranded in a destination should be looked after by their tour operator, and the operator is legally obliged to get them home,” advises Nick Trend. “But, if you have booked accommodation independently of your travel arrangements (i.e. not as part of a package holiday) your contract is directly with the hotel or villa and you are responsible for any cancellation. If you can’t get there, you will have to do your best to persuade them to give you a refund or rebook for a later date – but they are not obliged to do this and you may lose money.
“Your insurance policy may pay out a small amount for very long delays (usually over 12 hours), but not usually enough to pay for more than a meal or two. A few policies have cover for a “consequential loss”, such as a hotel booking made independently. You will need to check the terms and conditions which apply to your policy directly with your insurer.”
Will it happen again?
That’s the golden question, especially as Gatwick is currently vying with Heathrow for an additional runway . Safety procedures at all London airports are incredibly strict, and runways are monitored constantly for debris and damage. Any remaining damage will likely be dealt with very quickly. Runway closures are usually due to bird strikes or debris from impaired aircraft, rather than surface damage.
No airport would let aircraft land on a sub-standard runway, no matter how bad delays were likely to be – so if further disruption occurs, it’s not without good reason.