by Eyleen Sheil and PA Staff
Luton-based carrier Monarch which was about to mark its 50th anniversary went into administration yesterday cancelling flights and holidays of 860,000 people, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) confirmed.
As the news of Monarch’s collapse hit the Rock the Gibraltar Government, which had been closely monitoring the events and working on contingency plans, quickly set about informing passengers yesterday morning and provided them with advice on how they could be repatriated back to the UK.
They also issued advice for Gibraltar bound passengers stranded in the UK.
The Civil Aviation Authority hired 30 charter planes. The first one to arrive in Gibraltar early yesterday morning was a Boeing 737 from Titan Airways. Arriving locally only with its crew it boarded the Monarch Gatwick passengers and took off an hour later than originally scheduled. Over 90 airline passengers were then repatriated back to the UK.
All flights landing at airports to repatriate passengers back to the UK were all arriving empty from other destinations in Europe or the Middle East.
The Gibraltar Government gave priority to sponsored patients locally as it worked with the Gibraltar Health Authority over the weekend to identify those affected. 19 Sponsored patients and 17 escorts were found alternative flights.
Local travel agencies including Elite and Sterling Travel were busy all day yesterday with queues of customers wanting to rebook their flights.
Passengers are able to fly from Gibraltar to the UK on a CAA replacement flight within the next two weeks if they have booked on Monarch. However, travellers will not be provided with a return flight to Gibraltar, even if you have previously booked a ticket with Monarch. Those flying to Gibraltar need to make their own arrangements and the Gibraltar Government yesterday strongly advised all Monarch customers to re-book with other airlines.
Yesterday, four Monarch flights were affected, a further 14 flights have been cancelled for this week – to and from Gibraltar. Two flights left from Gibraltar yesterday and the rest from Malaga.
The present schedule for the airport shows the airport handles 49 flights per week the loss of Monarch represents a 37% decrease in aircraft movements.
Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, at a press conference early yesterday morning at No6 Convent Place, before boarding the British Airways flight to Heathrow and then onto New York for the United Nations session was joined by Acting Chief Minister, Dr John Cortes, head of Civil Aviation Chris Purkiss and Air Terminal Director Terence Lopez.
Dr Garcia confirmed the Government had been in discussions with other carriers who wanted to operate a new route to Gibraltar for some time.
“Now, as a result of this we are in specific discussions with the two carriers that now operate from the United Kingdom to see what can be done in terms of providing more flights on these routes,” he said.
British Airways and easyJet also operate routes to and from Gibraltar to the UK.
AT THE AIRPORT
Asked how long the CAA had been planning the operation, UK chief executive Andrew Haines replied: “We had notification from Monarch four and a half weeks ago that there were issues they were dealing with.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get final confirmation until 4am this morning and my understanding is that the board resolution to go into administration didn’t take place until close to midnight on Saturday night.”
Most Monarch passengers from the UK, he said, were currently abroad are in “classic holiday resorts” in Spain and Portugal such as the Costa del Sol, the Algarve and the Canary Islands.
There were UK tourists on the Rock as well.
Some 110,000 customers overseas were being flown home to the UK in what the UK Government called the UK’s biggest peacetime repatriation. A further three quarters of a million people held future bookings with the travel firm.
Locally Air Terminal Director at the Gibraltar Airport, Terence Lopez, told the Chronicle they had been busy all day but all the contingency plans had gone well and when he called on the Government for assistance they responded immediately.
Two flights due to leave Gibraltar yesterday evening departed from Malaga, the Birmingham and Manchester flight cancellation and subsequent flight from Spain created a delay of approximately five hours for passengers.
The Chronicle was at the airport terminal to speak to passengers who were calm about the situation and glad that the plans put into action were running smoothly.
“I can take this on the chin,” said Jatinder Johal who was heading back to Birmingham.
“Obviously I still have my car parked at the airport and I have a couple of hours drive home,” he said but this was a fact which did not seem to faze him.
It was Mr Johal’s first visit to the Rock and sadly had to miss out on some tourist attractions to arrive at the airport early. But he said he would return.
Ann Williams was also on the flight to Birmingham. She simply stated the situation “cannot be helped”.
“It’s been very good and well organised, there hasn’t been that much of a delay we thought it could be tomorrow, so it has been good.”
Fellow Birmingham passenger Frank Moran is semi-retired so he was not concerned about arriving at his destination at 4am this morning.
“It’s not been too big an inconvenience for me at all,” said Mr Moran who was on the Rock for his son’s wedding.
Flying to Manchester was the Hateley family, who were on the Rock for a family wedding last Saturday.
“It was a fantastic wedding and it’s a bit of a shame that our flight has been cancelled today, we did hear something last night that something might happen but we found out this morning just the same as everybody else.”
“We haven’t panicked about it at all and the Monarch CAA website has been just fantastic, we got information straight away to come here at five o’clock,” said Jackie Hately.
The passengers flying with her echoed her words.
Mike Hateley said that he had flown Monarch very recently and that they had been very good.
In addition, he felt that it was a “shame they have gone into administration, I think cheaper airlines may be to blame for trying to sell very cheap tickets. It is not sustainable”, he said.
“The short haul European market is in a mess at the moment,” he believed.
The latest information can be found on the Civil Aviation Authority dedicated website https://monarch.caa.co.uk/
Any information that the Government receives will be updated via the following official websites:
• Official Gibraltar International Airport Website: www.gibraltarairport.gi
• Official Facebook Page: HM Government of Gibraltar www.facebook.com/gibraltargovernment • Official Twitter Page: @GibraltarGov www.twitter.com/GibraltarGov
• Official Gibraltar Tourist Board Twitter Page: @VisitGibraltar www.twitter.com/visit_gibraltar