British holidaymakers stranded overseas amid flight cancellations and travel disruption

ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger on the ongoing travel chaos

Thousands of holidaymakers are stuck overseas after the cancellation of flights to the UK, with one group stuck in Cyprus for a week after their flight was cancelled with, they say, no explanation.

Steve and Clare Gates are holidaying with their son and another family - Dave and Helen Ruddle and their daughter. The group should have returned home from Cyprus on June 1 but, a week later, are yet to fly home after their first easyJet flight was cancelled.

"It's been very stressful. EasyJet have been very hard to get hold of," Steve said, adding the airline had offered "nothing" by way of explanation for the cancellation.

The group of six told ITV News they were offered a voucher or another flight back to Bristol by the airline - but that wouldn't be until June 13.

Instead the holidaymakers started searching for other flights from different airports in Cyprus and are now booked to return on Tuesday June 7 from a different city on the island.

'We were all due back at work - the kids were due back at school'

Despite the extra six days away, Steve said, initially, "we were still in the same position, where they were only going to give us one night's accommodation".

EasyJet eventually offered to pay for the extra nights, he said, so the group travelled across the island to the hotel where they would be staying but found the conditions unliveable.

"It was stinking when we got into the rooms, both of the rooms. It was filthy in there," Steve said. The hotel was, they said, under construction with builders working late into the night and first thing in the morning.

"Our first evening there was just drill noise, hammering, everything. It's the last thing you expect - after you've been moved across the country and put up in a sub-standard hotel - to then not be able to sleep because of all the noise," said David.

The families eventually took matters into their own hands, finding a house to rent in the same area. They've paid for the accommodation out of their own pockets but, they say, have been told they can claim the money back from easyJet once they return to the UK.

"We've spent a load of money in the past week - we just wanted a habitable hotel," Steve said.

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ITV News put the families' concerns to easyJet who said in a statement: “We are very sorry that the family’s flight from Paphos was cancelled. We notified customers directly of their options to rebook or receive a refund and are providing hotel accommodation and meals where required.

"Our customer service hours and hotel accommodation sourcing have been extended to support impacted customers and help get them to their destination as soon as possible. Nonetheless we fully understand the disruption this will have caused to their plans and we are very sorry for this. Our team are reaching out to them to talk through their options and reimburse them for any reasonable expenses.

"The safety and wellbeing of our customers is our highest priority and we take feedback of this nature seriously. We will be looking into the hotel accommodation provided to them with our hotel provider to ensure this is to the standard we expect for our customers."

What flights and being cancelled and why?

Passengers booked with easyJet, British Airways, Tui Airways and Wizz Air are among those who have seen their plans to return from half-term or bank holiday breaks disrupted.

Flights from destinations such as Bilbao, Madrid and Seville in Spain, Milan and Palermo in Italy, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, and Malta were all hit.

Some 225 departures from UK airports were cancelled between Monday and Friday last week, according to aviation data firm Cirium.

That compares with 24 during the corresponding half-term week last year.

An easyJet flight takes off from Gatwick. Credit: PA

British Airways axed more than 100 short-haul flights at Heathrow on Monday, although the airline stressed that passengers affected were given advance notice.

After cancelling dozens of flights over the weekend, easyJet scrapped a further 37 on Monday - with Gatwick Airport the worst affected.

Tui Airways is cancelling six daily flights at Manchester.

The head of customer operations at Bristol Airport has apologised after weeks of long queues have seen some passengers missing flights.

On Friday, Wizz Air confirmed it had cancelled a large number of flights to and from Doncaster Sheffield Airport from June 10. The airline said it is due to the airport indicating it is unable to guarantee the terms of its commercial agreement.

It said: "It is with deep regret that we have had to take the difficult but responsible decision to cancel a large number of Wizz Air flights. Given the current challenging operational environment in the travel industry, this decision also stabilises our operations at other UK bases to help minimise disruption and delay as much as possible."

"We sincerely apologise to our customers in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire for the inconvenience this has caused."

In a statement, Doncaster Sheffield Airport said it is "disappointed" that Wizz Air has permanently cancelled 13 summer and winter routes "without prior notice."

"It is particularly distressing for our passengers that so many flights and bookings have been axed at such short notice. Although the Wizz Air announcement undoubtedly has substantial impact on DSA, our priority remains on minimising the impact on our passengers, wherever possible."

An easyJet spokeswoman said: “EasyJet is operating over 1,700 flights today carrying almost 300,000 customers.

“Unfortunately, due to the ongoing challenging operating environment around 37 flights have been cancelled today ahead of customers arriving at the airport.

“We are very sorry and fully understand the disruption this will have caused for our customers.”

Passengers queuing at Dublin airport on Friday morning. Credit: PA

How many passengers have been hit by travel disruption?

Travel consultancy The PC Agency estimates at least 15,000 passengers were affected by “last-minute changes” to flights on Sunday.

Chief executive Paul Charles said this caused “major knock-on effects” and “it will take three days to clear the backlog”.

He said: “We’re now seeing the impact of the weekend’s cancellations with knock-on effects for tens of thousands of travellers.

“So many flights were never rescheduled after the pandemic, so there often isn’t the frequency of flights to get passengers back quickly if they are affected.

“We’re going to see a large number of compensation claims from those stuck abroad.

“Sadly it can take three days to get flights back to normal and get people back.”

What are businesses and the government doing?

UK airline passengers have been hit by disruption for several months due to a lack of staff after letting thousands of people go during the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines, airports and ground handling companies repeatedly called for sector-specific financial support during the Covid-19 crisis as government travel restrictions suppressed demand.

They are now struggling to recruit new staff and have their security checks processed.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has rejected calls to open the door to more “cheap” overseas workers in a bid to relieve the pressure on the aviation sector.

Asked whether he would temporarily allow more foreign workers into the industry to alleviate staffing pressures, told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “The answer can’t always be to reach for the lever marked ‘More immigration’.

“There is not some pull that is going to relieve this.”

Downing Street said ministers and officials had been meeting with aviation industry leaders and Border Force to increase “resilience for the sector throughout the summer” to avert further travel chaos.

But the prime minister’s official spokesman said it was ultimately down to the aviation industry to address staff shortages.

“We fully understand that the aviation industry – like many others – has faced significant challenges during the pandemic,” the spokesman said.

“But ultimately they are responsible for making sure they have enough staff to meet demand and we have been clear they must step up recruitment to make sure disruption is kept to a minimum.”