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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Executive travel: Nightmare trip to Budapest after last-minute easyJet cancellation

Business traveller Peter Cooper had to pay an extra Dh2,275 to reach his destination from London Gatwick

Peter Cooper was due to fly from London Gatwick (pictured) on an easyJet plane when his flight was suddenly cancelled. Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg
Peter Cooper was due to fly from London Gatwick (pictured) on an easyJet plane when his flight was suddenly cancelled. Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Imagine being sat in the business lounge at London’s Gatwick Airport nursing a Diet Coke when your phone pings and a message says your flight has just been cancelled.

Well, that’s what happened to me last Sunday flying from London Gatwick to Budapest. It took me another 24 hours to get to my destination and cost an extra Dh2,275.

Have you ever wondered how an airport copes when six flights are cancelled at the last minute because of the French air traffic controllers’ strike? Or so we were told. No flights from London Heathrow were affected.

The moment I saw the announcement I set off for the customer information desk, where an unfortunate lady supposed to have an operation the next day was being informed about the situation.

Basically there were only so many slots available in the sky for planes because of the controllers' strike. We had somehow just got bumped off.

We waited for an easyJet representative to arrive to take us back though passport control and customs to "reorganise" our travel. Sadly we were not alone as a total of six flights had just been cancelled and a queue of about 500 unhappy souls was lined up for processing.

The representative pointed out that we could do the same thing at the automatic machines much more quickly. It looked intimidating but I decided to give it a go. There was still a long queue and you had to remember your password.

By now it had occurred to me that about 500 people would now be trying to rebook for the very few seats available tomorrow, or indeed any other day that week.

So I did a flight scan on my phone of all available flights from London to Budapest, also quickly juggling the difficulties of getting to another airport by public transport on a Bank Holiday Sunday.

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There were not many options. And they were closing fast as many other clients dumped at the last minute by easyJet were doing the same thing.

British Airways had a flight that night at 20:40. But it was from Heathrow, I was not sure of making it in time and it cost Dh2,602.

So I decided on the 12:55 flight the next day, still a hefty Dh1,571. By the time I reached the easyJet check-out machine I had this ticket booked.

It was a wise move as the machine asked me to choose either a Dh367 refund for this leg of my return flight or hotel accommodation until the next available aircraft, and that would have meant waiting for three days.

There was no compensation payable. You might think the airline would have some insurance for such man-made disasters. But this is not the case.

After a Dh130, hour-and-a-half coach transfer I was in Heathrow airport and took the Dh45 five-minute Hotel Hoppa to the Park Inn by Radisson, Dh367 for the night.

The next day I was back again in the No 1 lounge but in a completely different airport. The drama was not quite over as my BA flight was an hour late because of the late arrival of an aircraft.

Still I patiently waited and we boarded in an orderly manner. The pilot assured us he would be as quick as possible and he did make up half the missing time.

That said despite my hugely expensive last-minute booking, I had to pay for a cup of tea. It was not helped by the fact that the Romanian-American who sat next to me cheerfully said he had booked three months ago for only Dh2,117, return from San Francisco.

At Budapest’s airport I jumped on the Dh11 airport shuttle that drops me right outside my apartment and found my dinner ready, if slightly cold.

I could only reflect that being safe and sound at home was the important thing, even if 24 hours late. But I think I will be looking for cheap deals on BA in future and not easyJet, which on this occasion was far from easy.

EasyJet did not respond to my request for a comment.

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