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Gatwick drone disruption: Belfast passengers forced to dig deep to get back home

By Victoria Leonard

Passengers trying to get home to Northern Ireland via Gatwick Airport for Christmas have spoken of their frustration at the knock-on effect of the drone disruption.

Richard McReynolds (30), from Lisburn, said that he and his fiancee, Eglinton woman Rachel Craig (31), would be forced to undertake an extensive rail journey to get to East Midlands Airport after their flight cancellation.

"We were meant to be on the flight from Gatwick at 4.25pm today," the secondary school teacher said yesterday. He has lived in London for five years.

"At 11.30am our flight was cancelled. When we looked online the flights were so expensive. We saw prices of £450 one way.

"There was one flight still available for £104 one way, but that meant a 40-minute journey to St Pancras and a £45 train journey of over an hour to East Midlands Airport. We'll also be flying into the city airport rather than the international, which isn't as good for my dad, who will be collecting us.

"I'm definitely being refunded, but my easyJet ticket was a return and I'm not sure if the return leg was also cancelled when I applied for a refund.

"If it has been, I will have to get another flight back to England.

"But comparatively speaking we are quite fortunate - we are still home on the same day, albeit five hours later to a different airport after travelling half way up the country!"

Colum O'Brien (25), an actuary from Ballygally, criticised easyJet for waiting until 2.45pm yesterday to confirm that his flight had been cancelled last night.

"I rang easyJet earlier in the day, but for them to wait until that time to cancel meant a lot of other options had gone and the prices of other flights went up," said the London-based man.

"I have applied for a refund. I ended up paying £333 for my ticket home, which will involve a flight to Edinburgh and then another flight to Belfast.

"I will have to leave at 6am and won't get back to Belfast until 4pm."

South London PR account executive Rosie Wilkinson (28) said she had been hoping to fly to Northern Ireland with her partner Ronan Martin (33) to visit his family in Lurgan when their flight was cancelled.

"We were looking forward to it. We had the presents all packed and we were going to stay for five days and come home on Christmas Eve," she said.

"We have applied for a refund but we haven't got it in the bank yet.

"We tried to get another flight but they were booked up until Boxing Day, so my partner and I are resigned to not going.

"We had been looking forward to it."

Outlining passengers' rights, senior policy officer at the Consumer Council Jenny Redman explained: "If your flight is delayed or cancelled you may be entitled to assistance such as meals, refreshments, telephone calls, emails or overnight accommodation while you wait.

"If your flight has been cancelled, the airline must offer you a choice between a refund or an alternative flight.

"As the disruption at Gatwick Airport has been outside of the airline's control, passengers will not be entitled to compensation.

"For passengers who have been affected by the disruption and want to know more about their passenger rights, contact the Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or download our plane facts guide available at www.consumercouncil.org.uk".

EasyJet said that it was "making every effort to get people to their destination at this important time of the year."

The airline added: "Customers on cancelled flights will be entitled to a free of charge transfer to an alternative flight and hotel accommodation if required.

"We will also reimburse any reasonable expenses incurred by passengers who arrange their own comparable alternative transport."

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