Passengers stranded by the chaos at Gatwick Airport today told of families running out of food and trying to sleep in ‘freezing’ terminals and crowded planes.
Pregnant women and young children were resting on the floor, disabled people were on chairs and people were trying to calm small babies amid the travel carnage.
Some became so irate at being stuck on the ground for four hours at Stansted that one allegedly opened the plane door before another claimed he was a terrorist.
At Gatwick, Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas.
At London Gatwick today, Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia (pictured) from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas
But she said: ‘Who will be the one to break the news to them? Sat in departures with no information. Twelve-plus hours to take down a drone is laughable… don’t they have police drones to send up?’
MailOnline travel editor Ted Thornhill was among those caught up in the trouble, as his Christmas plans to visit relatives in France were ‘ruined’ by the drone.
The father-of-one said: ‘We were supposed to be flying to Marseille to visit French relatives but our 8.40am easyJet flight was cancelled.
‘The only options open to us were to transfer to a late flight tomorrow to Nice – which would have been very disruptive for the baby’s sleep pattern – or book a new flight, which would have been very expensive.
‘So we’ve cancelled the entire trip. Luckily we heard about the disruption before we got to the airport so returned home. Very frustrating.’
Dozens of police officers are now hunting for the drone pilot as flights remain delayed today
A six-and-a-half hour TUI Airways flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick was diverted to Stansted due to disruption caused by drones over the Sussex airport.
But passengers claimed it was ‘pure hell’ on the Tarmac at Stansted overnight on flight TOM687, with some shouting at other travellers and being abusive to staff.
Having been stuck on the plane – which landed at about 10.15pm last night – for four hours, a man then allegedly opened the door and put everyone on board at risk.
Another then said he was a terrorist – and video footage showed two Essex Police officers coming on board to defuse the situation. No arrests were made.
One passenger, Lyndsey Clarke, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, tweeted: ‘So Gatwick is shut due to drones so our flight TOM687 has been diverted to Stansted.
Passengers stand by a plane door in Paris today after being diverted there on a Norweigan flight that had been headed to Gatwick. They said staff had started handing out water bottles
‘So far we’ve been stuck on our plane for four hours… a man has opened the plane door and put everyone at risk and then another guy says he’s a terrorist.
‘Living pure hell right now. The staff on flight TOM687 have been amazing but unfortunately they have been subject to so much abuse.
‘We all just want to get home. Several passengers on flight TOM687 just making this ordeal so awful, abusive to staff, shouting at other passengers. Police here now.’
Later, she added that she finally off ‘the plane of living hell’, adding: ‘Now to find a taxi back to Gatwick with a big bill – passengers trying to go together.’
And at 5.30am, Ms Clarke tweeted a picture of her car, saying: ‘Never been so happy to see our car. Back at Gatwick finally… eight hours later than our scheduled flight was due to arrive home at 9.30pm… just over an hour’s drive home now.’
Passenger chaos at Gatwick Airport this morning, amid chaos for tens of thousands of people
After arriving home she tweeted: ‘As for the terrorist… I have no words that someone thought it was OK to terrify an aircraft by saying he was a terrorist when in fact he was using it as an ‘idea’ to get them to let us off the plane, causing many of us to have panic attacks as we didn’t know if he was real.’
Another passenger, Ashley Pollitt, tweeted TUI to praise staff on the flight for being ‘nothing but helpful and informing us regularly’ about what was happening.
She added: ‘I’m sensing you will get a lot of complaints off idiotic customers that put both passengers/staff in danger along with other throwing stupid statements around.
‘I just wanted to say your staff from the captain to the cabin crew were nothing but professional and informative.’
TUI replied, saying: ‘Sorry to hear that your flight has had to be diverted Ashley, I can imagine this has been an inconvenience. It’s great to read however that our staff have been helpful in keeping you informed during this time.’
The arrivals board at Gatwick this morning, showing cancelled, diverted and delayed flights
It then added: ‘Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us Ashley. We’ll be sure to pass on your kind words to the crew of TOM687.’
An Essex Police spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We were called shortly after 1.35am on Thursday, December 20 to reports a passenger was being disruptive.
‘We attended and spoke to the parties involved. No offences were identified and words of advice were given to the male passenger.’
A TUI spokesman said: ‘We would like to apologise to customers travelling on TOM687 which was diverted to London Stansted due to the London Gatwick drone disruption.
‘While the aircraft was held on stand, our captain made the decision to call police to the aircraft due to a customer’s disruptive behaviour. We operate a zero tolerance policy on aggressive and abusive behaviour on board our flights.
‘The safety and security of all our customers and crew remains our number one priority and we are doing everything possible to minimise the disruption for our customers during this time.’
Stansted Airport declined to comment.
Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, said she saw a pregnant woman sleeping on the floor and passengers with infants spending the night in the ‘freezing’ South Terminal.
She said she got to the airport at 12.30am for a 3am flight to Cyprus via Kiev, only to find it had been cancelled and the next connection in Kiev is on Sunday.
She said: ‘I haven’t slept since yesterday morning, we are very tired. It’s freezing, we are cold, having to wear all of these coats for extra blankets.
Video footage showed two police officers coming on board to defuse the situation last night
‘There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor. There were people with small babies in here overnight, we saw disabled people on chairs.
‘There were young children sleeping on the floor.’
She said she will have to spend a night in Kiev, but she had been told by Ukraine International Airlines that there may be a chance of an alternative connection through Tel Aviv.
‘Hopefully they will arrange a hotel for us so we don’t have another night in an airport,’ she added.
Chris Lister, from Somerset, who owns an online business, was travelling back from Kiev with his wife Freya.
The Thomson flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick (pictured) was diverted to Stansted
He was due to land at Gatwick at 9.45pm yesterday but ended up trapped on the plane on the Tarmac at Birmingham Airport until 6am.
‘There were quite a few babies and kids on board, I think they were struggling more than we were and one woman had run out milk,’ he said.
After starting his journey in Bangkok on Tuesday he was finally let off the plane at 6am, he said.
A Gatwick spokesman said 110,000 passengers were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights today.
Queues of passengers in the check in area at Gatwick Airport today as they wait for updates
He was unable to say how many had already been affected but the first wave of flights is normally the busiest time of the day.
Around 10,000 passengers were affected last night after the runway was closed at 9.03pm.
Passengers are advised not to travel to the airport if their flight is cancelled.
Joseph Ouechen, a photographer from Morocco, was due to fly into Gatwick on Wednesday night but had his flight diverted to Paris.
After arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport at midnight, passengers with visas for the Schengen area were taken to a hotel but those without – ‘about 20 per cent’ – were left in the airport to fend for themselves, he said.
The scene inside an easyJet plane today, three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which was closed because of the sighting of drones
‘There were families with babies who couldn’t get to their suitcases for their milk and stuff,’ he said.
‘We were asking just for a favour if (airport staff) could help but they said they couldn’t do anything.’
Firefighters eventually crossed the border through passport control with blankets and water at 3.30am, he said.
‘To be honest, I’m so tired and when the guys from the fire (service) came with the bottles and blankets I was feeling like a war, like (I was) a refugee, but I’m just flying to the UK.
‘It’s surreal. I was flying to the UK and now there are firemen bringing me water and blankets.’
A helicopter flies over the runway at Gatwick Airport this morning after it was closed
Mamosta Abdulla said he was on an Iraq-bound flight yesterday evening before getting stuck on the Tarmac for four hours.
He will miss his father’s memorial service, he said.
‘We got here at 6pm and should have flown at 9.10pm, but we were stuck four hours on the plane with a crying baby, the child was disabled and everyone was sweating because it was so hot in there,’ he said.
Passengers were given a £12 voucher for food, he added, but were left to sleep ‘in a freezing place on uncomfortable chairs’.
‘We are in Iraq with bombs going off nearby and the plane still lands. But here some drones have shut down the airport.’