Northern Ireland

Air traffic controllers' strike: Northern Ireland families stranded in Spain

Easyjet plane Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An Easyjet spokesperson said the airline had "worked hard to secure hotel rooms and transferred all passenger onto alternative flights free of charge"

Two Northern Ireland families stranded in Spain due to the French air traffic controllers' strike have criticised how their airline handled the situation.

The Carroll family, from Newtownabbey, County Antrim, and the Hughes family from Belfast cannot get home because their Easyjet flights were cancelled.

They were offered replacement flights but the planes depart late next week.

Easyjet said the strike was outside its control and was "doing everything possible to limit the inconvenience".

'No rooms left'

Robert Carroll travelled to Spain 11-days ago for a family holiday with his wife and three children in Salou.

Their flight home from Barcelona to Belfast was cancelled on Wednesday afternoon, on the first day of a two-day strike by air traffic controllers in France.

The dispute, over working conditions, led to several airlines cancelling hundreds of flights across Europe.

The couple, who are both due back at work in Northern Ireland, had not budgeted for an extra week in Spain.

Mr Carroll described a scene of delays and confusion when they got to their airport in Barcelona.

"After waiting in a queue for Easyjet for three hours, we were told we were going to a hotel, so we queued for a bus for another hour," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

After the family were bussed to the hotel, they said they had to queue at reception for an hour and a half before being told that there were no rooms left.

'Unpaid leave'

"They then sent us back to the terminal, who then sent us to another hotel, who told us they can only take us for two nights," Mr Carroll said.

"So we're here for two nights. Then after that we have to make our way back to the terminal, at a cost of 60 euros (£44) to ourselves, to find out where we're going to stay for another couple of nights."

Mr Carroll said he accepted that Easyjet had no control over the strike, but criticised the airline for "sending us to places that don't have any rooms".

He added that his wife has had to take unpaid leave from her job because of the unforeseen extension to their stay.

'Spending money'

Although Easyjet is providing a replacement flight and free accommodation, the family are running low on money.

"If we had to go out and spend money it would have to come out of money to pay for other things We have been in Salou for 11 days so our spending money is depleted," Mr Carroll said.

Brenda Hughes was trying to get home to Belfast after a week's holiday in Benidorm, Spain, with her elderly mother and teenage son.

She said they were told their flight home was cancelled shortly after they checked their bags in at Alicante airport on Wednesday night.

Ms Hughes described the situation in the airport as "horrendous".

'Time off'

She said they had to stand in a queue for six hours, waiting to speak to the two Easyjet staff members on the information desk.

The airline has offered the family a replacement flight home but no seats are available until next Thursday, 16 April.

Ms Hughes said it will mean her son will miss a week of school and she will have to take extra time off from her job as a GP receptionist in Belfast.

She added that her 76-year-old mother requires daily medication and does not have enough tablets to last another week in Spain.

Ms Hughes also criticised staff at the airport, saying passengers, including children and elderly people, were not offered as a much as "a sip of water" during the six-hour wait.

The family were bussed to a hotel at about 03:00 local time on Thursday.

Ms Hughes said they have no money left after their holiday and are concerned about the cost of food in their four-star hotel.

Apology

In a statement to the BBC, an Easyjet spokesperson said the airline "worked hard to secure hotel rooms and transferred all passenger onto alternative flights free of charge".

"Due to the high demand on these routes some upcoming flights may not be available, but our airport staff are currently looking at other rerouting options for passengers."

"Although this is outside of our control, EasyJet would like to apologise to its customers for any inconvenience caused."

Addressing the accommodation complaints, the airline said it has "booked two nights for passengers at the moment as we do expect some will travel back on their own accord".

"We will continue to review the situation and provide hotel rooms for passengers until the next flights are available."

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