Passengers on a Belfast-bound flight were stranded on the Gatwick tarmac for more than four hours because their co-pilot was in a taxi stuck in traffic.
The easyJet flight, which was due to leave Gatwick at 5.55pm on Tuesday, did not depart until 12.55am the next day, with frustrated passengers being told that their co-pilot was stuck in a taxi due to a crash near Heathrow.
The Belfast Telegraph understands a group of school children from Northern Ireland travelling home from an under-12 football tournament in France were among the stranded.
The flight was already delayed for three hours before passengers were called to the gate. After boarding, passengers were stuck on the plane for more than four hours before it took off.
EasyJet told passengers the delay was initially caused by an air traffic control strike in France which was then compounded by crewing issues and a crash on the M25.
The captain informed passengers that a new crew was having to be scrambled because the current crew was running out of flying hours.
Delayed again and again today by Easyjet flight number EZY837. Communication nil shame on Easyjet #@gatwick_airport— Deirdre Allison (@DeirdreAllison) May 22, 2018
The new captain then told passengers Gatwick had run out of first officers and that one was being dispatched by taxi from Luton.
One passenger told the Belfast Telegraph: “For the next three hours we were in this very bizarre situation where every 45 minutes the captain was telling us the co-pilot was 45 minutes away.
"First he needed 45 minutes to arrive, then there was a crash and traffic jam near Heathrow.
“The captain kept saying he was checking Google maps to see where the co-pilot was. In the end he was escorted to the plane by ground staff and we took off at 12.55am and landed at 1.51am.”
An easyJet spokesman confirmed the flight was delayed due to industrial action taking place in France and that the flight crew reached their legal operating limits and easyJet arranged for a replacement crew to operate the flight.
The spokesman added: “EasyJet did everything possible to minimise the effects of the disruption and provided refreshments for our passengers.
“The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is easyJet’s highest priority and whilst this was outside of easyJet’s control, we would like to thank passengers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience experienced as a result of the strike action.”