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Pregnant woman in Greece for anniversary among thousands left stranded abroad for days

A pregnant woman who travelled to Greece to celebrate her first wedding anniversary is among thousands of passengers left stranded abroad, as UK air travel continues to reel from a major air traffic control meltdown.

Around 200,000 people saw their flights cancelled on Monday after a technical fault with National Air Traffic Services systems led to 1,500 planes being grounded and many thousands more delayed.

Despite the issue being fixed on Monday, the major disruption to tightly-packed bank holiday schedules continues to cause chaos in UK flight schedules – with many passengers now facing the prospect of being stuck overseas for more than a week.

Lucy Chang, who is six months pregnant, and her husband Iain Hawthorn initially faced a 10-day wait to return from the Greek island of Rhodes, where they had been celebrating their first anniversary, after their flight to Gatwick on Monday was cancelled.

With no option to book a hotel through the EasyJet app, the couple, aged 35 and 37 respectively, had to arrange their own accommodation – with all of the airline’s 29 flights from Rhodes to Gatwick between Tuesday and next Thursday showing on the app as having sold out.

After waiting in the EasyJet chat queue for seven hours on Tuesday, an adviser told them to book with an alternative carrier and submit claims for review. But they were unable to confirm whether their extra accommodation would be compensated.

The adviser then “ended the chat on her own accord without asking if we needed any further assistance”, Mr Hawthorn alleged.

The couple has since been able to secure flights on Thursday, but have been forced to pay “well over £1,500” including the additional accommodation, Mr Hawthorn told The Independent. Ms Chang will have to miss a prenatal glucose test and a midwifery appointment, her husband said.

The couple said it had been “an extremely frustrating time”, adding: “Ultimately, we wasted a full day seeking clarification on next steps and were essentially told to find our own way home with no support or assurance that we would be reimbursed after being on hold all day.”

EasyJet told The Independent it was “reaching out to Ian and Lucy to ensure they are reimbursed promptly”.

Meanwhile, Bart Somsen – whose flight from Alicante to Luton was cancelled – was among several to describe “distressing scenes” at airports on Monday.

With the first available EasyJet flight not for seven days – which was “not an option”, Mr Somsen told The Independent he had finally been able to secure a new flight to Amsterdam on Wednesday, where he will have to stay overnight before flying home on Thursday.

Others have been forced to abandon air travel altogether. Matteo Nicola and his wife had travelled to Albania to visit his dying grandfather, who died last week. But they found themselves stuck in the Netherlands as the air traffic chaos unfolded, during a stopover on their return from Tirana.

Offered the choice by Ryanair of either rebooking onto the first available flight – which was not until Friday – or receiving a refund for their original ticket, they had “no alternative” but to stay the night in Eindhoven and return to the UK by bus.

The whole trip, from Eindhoven to London Victoria by bus, and then a train to Preston, has cost £500 so far, not including their missed salaries.

“I don’t think I will get any compensation from Ryanair or anyone else. This was the last thing I wanted to experience after being emotionally broken from the loss of my grandfather,” the 30-year-old data scientist told The Independent.

Some holidaymakers have resigned themselves to an unexpected week away from home.

After Monday’s 8:10pm flight from Faro to Belfast was cancelled, Martin Andrew Lavelle and his girlfriend were among the passengers to receive an email from EasyJet to say they had been put on a new plane.

However, the flight is not due until next Monday – seven days after their original ticket – and instead lands in Manchester, where they will have to stay overnight before finally flying home to Belfast on Tuesday morning.

Passengers described ‘chaotic’ scenes at airports on Monday as the UK’s air traffic control systems went down

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