LUTON, England (Reuters) - Mary Quist arrived at Luton Airport in the early hours of Monday looking forward to a holiday in Portugal, but the sudden collapse of Britain’s Monarch Airlines meant a day of confusion and frustration.
With no prior warning her flight could be cancelled, she and her husband were eventually rebooked by a travel agent on to a flight to Faro at 6.30 p.m. (1730 GMT), meaning they faced a long wait at the airport north of London and lost a day of holiday.
“It’s absolutely, completely disgusting. Not a message, not a text, not an email,” said Quist, 65, a belly dance teacher from Milton Keynes in central England.
“Nobody here to say anything. My husband works seven days a week and he’s got a week’s holiday of which we’ve now lost a day... We can’t even get to duty free to get some medicinal alcohol,” she added.
Monarch cancelled 750,000 future bookings on Monday after going into administration, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is now working to repatriate 110,000 customers who were due to fly back to Britain from their holidays.
“My husband got an email at 4 o’clock to say thank you for checking in. Then the next thing we know, it’s been cancelled, Monarch’s gone into liquidation,” said Hazel Henson, 47, who had driven up from the English south coast port of Dover.
The atmosphere in Luton was calm and quiet with many travellers heeding the advice not to come to the airport or to return home if they could not rebook their flights.
Many of those who had rebooked flights were milling in cafes, frustrated at the lack of communication.
A message on a board near a deserted check-in point for flights read “Monarch all flights suspended” and gave a website and phone number for customers affected.
It is not the first severe flight disruption that British tourists have suffered this year.
A huge power outage in May prompted British Airways to cancel all flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports on a Saturday of a busy holiday weekend, while hundreds of thousands of Ryanair (RYA.I) customers have been affected by cancellations in recent weeks after problems with the rostering of pilots.
Hazel’s husband Mark Henson, a delivery driver, said the collapse of Monarch would help to distract from Ryanair’s problems.
“The person who’s going to be laughing today is the person who owns Ryanair,” he said.
Britons who are abroad already are being returned to the UK for no extra charge. Travellers returning to Luton from Menorca said that they received a text saying they would be flying with a different airline and that the process had been easy.
Hamdi Güvenç, general director of Dalaman airport in south Turkey, said the repatriation of British tourists was going smoothly. However some tourists there expressed annoyance that a number of flights would end up at airports some 300 miles from their original destinations.
“Don’t know where I‘m going to end up - I could end up in Beirut. But that’s life isn’t it? We’re just going to have to deal with it,” said Mark East who was returning from a vacation.
“I feel for the people back in the UK that turned up at the airport today but couldn’t get on their flights to come out here.”
Those customers who were due to leave Britain will have to find the money for new flights.
“We’ve had to pay out an extra 450 pounds to fly with Ryanair,” said Ann Johnson, 75, from Luton. She added that she hoped for compensation, but that others had been hit harder by the collapse of Monarch, which has more than 2,000 staff.
“It’s worse for the people who’ve lost their jobs.”
Writing by Alistair Smout; Additional reporting from Ali Kucukgocmen in Dalaman; Editing by Keith Weir