Q I used to fly Edinburgh-Heathrow-Porto with good flight times. But I see that British Airways are going back to flying some European routes from London Gatwick, including Porto, and I cannot get a connecting flight with them from Edinburgh. Are there any plans for British Airways to fly from Edinburgh to Gatwick? Alternatively, if I need to fly via London what is the best way to connect to Gatwick?
A During the Covid pandemic British Airways closed down its short-haul network from Gatwick – which, until early 2020, included a range of domestic connections. Some services to continental Europe were axed, but others moved to BA’s home at Heathrow. Once aviation started to resume at scale as the crisis eased, Heathrow provided a good range of European connections from Scotland.
Demand for air travel is now strong. Slots at the UK’s premier hub, Heathrow, are once again at a premium. Some European routes with predominantly leisure travel are being transferred to the British Airways European operation at Gatwick. I think it is fair to regard the spell of widespread connections from Edinburgh on BA via Heathrow as something of an aberration, with the standard pattern now resuming.
You could take a chance on flying from Edinburgh to Gatwick on easyJet and self-connecting. This injects jeopardy into the journey: if the first flight is late, you have no protection. Even if everything is on time, you need to exit from domestic arrivals, check in bags if necessary and pass through security once more. In other words, lots of faff that you could do without.
It will be a similar story if you fly from Edinburgh to Heathrow and transfer to Gatwick. The National Express coach between Heathrow and Gatwick is expensive and prone to M25 traffic jams. On a non-rail-strike day I recommend the Elizabeth Line to Farringdon and a Thameslink train to Gatwick; it involves a relatively easy connection. Even so, three hours is the minimum you should allow between flights.
Much better, in my opinion, to take a train to Manchester airport from Edinburgh (about three-and-a-half hours) and avail of Ryanair’s direct flights to Porto. It should prove a relatively relaxing journey.
Q I have Australian friends scheduled to arrive at London Heathrow around 6am next Wednesday (4 October). They are booked into a hotel at King’s Cross. Do you think there will be underground trains to central London on that day from Heathrow? If not, could they use the Elizabeth line – or is that also likely to be affected?
A Normally the Piccadilly line would carry your friends, slowly but effectively, from Heathrow to King’s Cross in about an hour – at least on a good day, for a fare of £5.60. Unfortunately for them, the RMT union has announced strikes on the London Underground on Wednesday 4 and Friday 6 October in a dispute over job losses and safety concerns.
Thankfully, the Elizabeth line will come to their rescue. Over the coming week, many thousands of travellers will be grateful for the much-delayed and hugely over-budget project formerly known as Crossrail. In one of her last public acts, the Queen officially opened the line that bears her name. The Elizabeth line connects all four terminals at Heathrow, as well as Reading, with central London, Docklands, southeast London and south Essex. So popular is it that the line now carries one in six of the rail passengers in Great Britain.
The line crosses central London from west to east in deep tunnels, but it is not part of the London Underground network. So it is unaffected by the RMT strike, which is likely to shut down almost all Tube services. Neither is the Elizabeth line operator, MTR Corporation, in dispute with the Aslef union – whose train driver members are walking out on Saturday 30 September and Wednesday 4 October, as well as imposing an overtime ban for most of the week from Friday 29 September. So they can expect the normal service: every half-hour from Terminal 4 and Terminal 5, and every 15 minutes from Terminal 2 and 3.
Your friends can take the Elizabeth line to Farringdon station in about 40 minutes. The fare of £13.30 is payable by a contactless credit or debit card, so no need to queue for a ticket. From Farringdon there are frequent buses for the final mile to King’s Cross – or they can invest in a taxi, if they can find one that is available on a Tube strike day.
Q In June I booked a holiday in Malaysia for travel in November. Through my travel agent, I paid for two business class tickets for £4,500 each. Unfortunately, I have to undergo surgery and I am not able to travel on the date. The surgeon kindly wrote a letter explaining the situation. But the travel agent says if I apply for a refund I will lose £1,200 per passenger. Even rescheduling the flight for a later date will cost me £800 per person plus any difference in fare. I am really upset by this and feel let down by the airline. Can you help?
A Sorry to hear about your predicament. First, I hope your surgery proceeds well and that you make a swift and full recovery. Next, this is how the issue looks to me. The initial consideration is travel insurance. If your condition was not known about in June, and you were consequently able to take out a policy that covers cancellation (among other things), it will be a straightforward matter to cancel the trip and claim the lost £1,200 each from the insurer.
I infer from your question, though, that there may be reasons why you were not covered for your condition. In this case, I think the travel agent has a question or two to answer. Were you warned at the time of purchase that you would stand to lose 27 per cent of your ticket price if you were to cancel? I contend that a decent travel agent would also have explained that there was no reason to commit so far in advance for a November trip: this is a great month to travel because it is off-peak. I imagine you would get roughly the same fare even within a few days of departure: I am currently seeing business class fares on a range of high-quality airlines for around £4,000 return. Discuss this aspect with your travel agent in the hope that they are able to argue your case with the airline more robustly.
Many carriers, including British Airways, will act generously if you are unable to travel because of a medical issue, and will provide a voucher for future travel for the full value of the original tickets. I believe this is the best you can expect in these difficult circumstances, and I hope the agent can work with the airline to achieve this.
Q Any thoughts on flight delay compensation on Vueling? We were booked to fly from Gatwick to Rome on Monday evening at 8.55pm but didn’t actually take off until after midnight. We arrived at 3.30am on Tuesday morning, over three hours late, and would now like to claim compensation for the delay. How do we go about it?
A I have looked back to the miserable evening you spent hanging around at Gatwick rather than taking off for Rome. Earlier flights on both easyJet and Vueling got away with a delay of about an hour, but as is often the case with the last flight of the day, your delay was much longer. The Vueling plane was ready to fly out from its base in Rome on schedule at 6.30pm. But Gatwick saw yet another severe reduction in the “flow rate” of arrivals and departures due to high levels of sickness among control tower staff.
The Vueling plane was almost four hours late getting off the ground from Rome. I presume the crew had been told that they would not be allowed to land until after 11pm. Even when they arrived – and presumably very keen to get home that night – the normal 40-minute turnaround extended until nearly an hour.
Having been royally messed around, I can understand you wanting to claim the £220 in cash compensation that airlines generally owe for a delay in arrival of three hours or more. But I am afraid I will disappoint you: because the sickness in Gatwick’s control tower is clearly beyond Vueling’s control, it has no liability under European air passengers’ rights rules to pay the standard compensation.
One crumb of potential comfort: with an evident delay of over two hours, Vueling should have provided vouchers for refreshments – enough, perhaps, for a soft drink and a sandwich. If those were not handed out, and you have receipts for any sustenance you bought, you could apply for recompense. Given the dozens of cancellations on Monday, though, I would be feeling grateful that the plane eventually left.
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