A pregnant woman, families with infants forced to sleep on the floors and a grieving man now unable to attend his father’s funeral are just some of tens of thousands of passengers caught up in the misery of the Gatwick airport chaos.
Some were given a £12 voucher for food but left to sleep “in a freezing place on uncomfortable chairs”, one man said.
This comes as the police said that the flying of drones at the airport, causing the runway to be closed, was “a deliberate act to disrupt the airport”.
Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, told the Press Association that she saw a pregnant woman sleeping on the floor and passengers with infants spending the night in the “freezing” South Terminal.
Having arrived at the airport at around 12.30am for a 3am flight to Cyprus via Kiev, she found that 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.
“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.”
Chris Lister, from Somerset, who owns an online business, was travelling back from Kiev with his wife Freya.
He was due to land at Gatwick at 9.45pm on Wednesday but ended up stranded 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 beginning his journey in Bangkok on Tuesday he was eventually allowed to disembark the aircraft 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 on Thursday.
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 on Wednesday 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%” – were left in the airport to fend for themselves, he said.
“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.”
Mamosta Abdulla said he was on an Iraq-bound flight on Wednesday evening before getting stuck on the tarmac for four hours.
As a result, he will now miss his father’s memorial service.
“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.”
More than 20 police units from two forces are searching for the perpetrator behind the drones.
Gatwick’s MP, Tory Henry Smith, wrote on Twitter: “The closure of Gatwick Airport for 12 hours now due to drone flying appears to be a deliberate criminal act with geofencing breached.”
The airport’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, blasted the “irresponsible” drone use.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that two of the gadgets had been seen flying “over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from”.
Mr Woodroofe added that the drones had sparked “very significant disruption for passengers” but police did not want to shoot them down because of the risk from stray bullets.