Easyjet grounded a holiday flight to Belfast after families were stuck on the tarmac for four hours

Flights from the international airport to the Portuguese city on Friday had been delayed by around four hours, with passengers – including families with children – left waiting on board.

Initially the problem was caused by a technical problem.

But by the time this was resolved, the crew had been overworked at the set hour – and the plane was unable to take off.

Among the passengers was William Fitchie, from Belfast.

He said: “The flight was originally scheduled to take off at 16.30 and we were told it would be delayed until 17.00.

“We finally boarded the plane at 17.10 and the captain informed us of another delay caused by a technical issue with the landing gear gear.

“We were told that this would delay us no more than 10 additional minutes.

“An hour later, passengers were notified that there was a crew flight time issue, meaning the crew on standby needed to board the plane.”

However, he explained that flights continued to be delayed – and it was later discovered that some of the replacement crew had also been working their hours by the time the plane reached Faro.

“After nearly four hours of sitting on the plane with other passengers, including many children and families who were getting frustrated, the plane finally slid toward the main runway.

“The children clapped and screamed with joy as the plane was pushed off its seat.

“We were almost halfway to the main runway when the captain announced that he had spoken to headquarters and if staff were to fly to Faro and back it would exceed their working hours. Therefore, the flight had to be cancelled.”

Mr Fitchie explained that when disgruntled passengers got off the plane, there were no easyJet staff available at the service desks in the terminal to assist them.

He said it angered already “very frustrated” passengers.

It took more than an hour to collect the luggage from the flight and return it, Fitchie added.

“We had to go and ask about our bags; it’s frustrating. Then it took the airport ground staff another hour and a half to unload the luggage because the communication between the carrier and the ground crew was cut off,” he said.

Mr Fitchie, who was also traveling with his grandson, said no replacement or alternative flights had been offered.

“My group, like many others, had booked a holiday through easyJet holidays and looked for information on the Swissair desk.

“They told us to check our easyJet app for information; app said they will contact updates on our holidays.

“The next information we received was that no alternative was available, and our vacation was cancelled.

“This means many people, including families with children, may have to miss their summer holidays.

“We were fortunate enough to have a few extra pounds to book another holiday but chances are other families with young children may not be able to afford this,” Fitchie added.

An easyJet spokesperson apologized for the “inconvenience caused” but “the safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is our top priority”.

“Flight EZY3045 from Belfast to Faro on Friday evening encountered a technical issue caused by debris on the taxiway and while our engineers were working this out, the delay caused the crew to exceed their safety regulated hours of operation,” they said.

“We arranged for a crew replacement, however further delays at the airport meant that not all crew were able to operate within the regulated safety hours and unfortunately the flight was cancelled.

“The safety and well-being of our customers and crew is our highest priority, and our crews are doing everything possible to minimize the impact of delays and keep customers onboard on board up to date.

“In the event a flight is cancelled, we provide information to passengers via our mobile application and online with the option to transfer to an alternative flight or receive a full refund and book hotel accommodation and meals if required,” the spokesperson added.

“We looked into the customer experience at the airport with our ground handling provider in Belfast as we always expect our customers to be provided with support and we would like to apologize for the inconvenience caused.”

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