Moments earlier, as we were about to check in our luggage, I received a text message and email from Easyjet that our flight home to Glasgow had been cancelled – less than 90 minutes before take off.
It was among 11 of the airline’s flights to be cancelled at Gatwick around that time, along with several others, due to air traffic control problems.
There was initial confusion about what we should do once we realised the later Glasgow flight had also been grounded, there were none available from nearby airports and the Caledonian Sleeper was fully booked too.
It soon became apparent we needed to sort things out via the Easyjet website, and rebooking a flight for the next morning online proved quick and straightforward.
However, the more immediate problem of securing a hotel for the night was far less easy.
Failing to find the online link to the airline’s accommodation booking platform, I called a press officer for guidance, who put me in touch with a colleague, who called me to say the nearest available room was in… Southend-on-Sea – 60 miles away.
Hedging our bets, my wife was at the same time searching online for hotel rooms too, and with all those at the airport apparently full, cast the net wider, following the handy tip that the more expensive ones would be booked up last.
Attempting to maintain a calm demeanour during our quest, so as not to alarm our teenage children, we managed to find a family room at a hotel five miles away, booking it by phone from a coffee shop in the terminal as the staff closed the place up around us.
Panic over – but it was only because I was fortunate to have access to the press office to confirm we would be reimbursed nearly £400 that the room, food and taxis cost us.
Confusingly, the Easyjet flight cancellation email had said we would be offered a hotel room, but warned: “Please don't try to book your own hotel accommodation. If you book and pay for a hotel when we could have provided it for you, we won't be able to reimburse you for those expenses.”
The airline later told me there may have no link visible to its accommodation booking system because there were no rooms available – but that will have been cold comfort to others on our cancelled flight.
Easyjet, Scotland’s biggest airline, has cancelled around 24 of its 425 Gatwick flights a day until Monday, while some of its others – like ours – were grounded for other reasons, including staff shortage among baggage handling companies, and runway works.
Passengers at Scottish airports have so far escaped that level of disruption, but there have been long queues at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports this week, partly because some travellers arrived hours too early – such as at 1am despite their check-in not opening until 6am.
The acid test will be the start of the school holidays in three weeks’ time, when airports may be even busier than pre-pandemic.
Will airports, airlines and passengers be prepared?