Two frontline healthcare workers have been left €1,000 (£850) out of pocket as a result of ongoing travel chaos with EasyJet.
Belfast-based mental health nurse Maria Phelan (33) and her friend Lauren escaped to Spain for a four-day break last week following a gruelling two years working through the pandemic.
However, the ‘cheap’ getaway has sent their bank accounts into a nose-dive and left them feeling even more exhausted.
“We were really buzzing about getting our first sunny holiday since the coronavirus outbreak,” Ms Phelan recalled.
All was well until the pals were due to fly home from Alicante to Belfast at 8.55pm last Thursday, only to be told half an hour before take-off that their flight had been axed.
“[The flight] had been flashing up all day on the app as delayed, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened and feeling stranded in a foreign country,” Ms Phelan said.
“It will leave a lasting impression on my own mental health.”
The disillusioned customer criticised the airline over its handling of the situation, claiming that staff “were no help” whatsoever.
“Passengers, including many elderly people and people with young kids, were absolutely fuming,” Ms Phelan said.
“There was an older woman who needed heart medication — it was awful.
“The EasyJet staff kept telling people to check their app for more flights, but not everyone had access to it.”
The tired travellers were eventually offered seats on a flight scheduled to depart three days later.
“This simply was a no-go, as my travelling companion had to get home urgently to her daughter for childcare reasons,” Ms Phelan explained.
“It took more than four hours for EasyJet to organise a hotel for us and all the other stranded passengers that night.”
The healthcare worker says that when their “Alicante-based” accommodation was finally confirmed, it ended up being in a town called Elche, located 20km from the airport and in the opposite direction from the popular holiday resort.
The situation only deteriorated as the knock-on impact of the last-minute cancellation continued to unfold.
“We ended up booking a Ryanair flight from Murcia to Dublin and the taxi from Elche to the airport was over €100 (£85),” Ms Phelan said.
“But after landing at 11pm on Friday we faced a new predicament: there was no bus to Belfast until 5am.”
However, the mental health nurse — who needed to get back to Belfast International Airport where she had parked — was due to be in work on Saturday after already missing a shift on Friday.
“I had to use two days of unplanned annual leave in the end. My boss was really understanding, but I felt like I’d let them down,” Ms Phelan said.
“Lauren had to be in work as well and needed to get home to her daughter. It left us with no choice but to get a taxi.”
The pair watched in horror as the Dublin-to-Belfast cab’s taximeter soared to €311.40 (£264.87).
The healthcare professional was back on the ward for 8am on Sunday morning for a 12-hour stint.
“I’m absolutely shattered,” she admitted.
“I have no idea if we will be reimbursed for the extra expenditure, which adds up to more than £800, including the flights, baggage costs, additional meals and so on.
“EasyJet’s customer service is the worst. If I got on the way they do in my job, I wouldn’t have one any more.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is among hundreds of passengers who have been affected by last-minute cancellations at airports across Europe.
“Get your act together,” he told EasyJet on social media.
The Foyle MP took to Twitter to describe the airline’s handling of the situation at Gatwick Airport this morning as “ridiculous”, after his early flight to Belfast City Airport was cancelled with just 30 minutes’ notice.
A spokesperson for the low-cost airline company said the incident was due to staff sickness and apologised for the disruption.
“We have informed all customers and provided them with their options, including a free transfer, a voucher or a refund, as well as hotel accommodation and meals where required,” the spokesperson added.
“We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused.”