A wedding party of 31 people were 10 minutes from boarding their plane to Gran Canaria on Monday morning when they were told that their Monarch Airlines flight was cancelled, leaving them with a bill of thousands of pounds.
Alan Jee, from Bournemouth, was due to depart Gatwick ahead of his wedding, which takes place on Saturday, with 30 family members.
The family is just one of thousands to have their flights cancelled after Monarch Airlines went into administration.
The group said they feel as though they have been abandoned by the airline and have had to rebook flights at a cost of about £12,000.
Passengers who face having their holidays cancelled have described seeing people in “tears” at Gatwick Airport as check-in stands were eerily deserted of staff on Monday morning.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had launched a programme to bring 110,000 Monarch customers back to the UK in response to the airline’s collapse, which also leaves 300,000 future bookings cancelled.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the Government had launched “an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation”, and described the repatriation of 110,000 people as the “biggest ever peacetime repatriation”.
Jee, a builder, told HuffPost UK at Gatwick Airport: “The wedding has cost me about £15,000 - everything has been paid for. Nails, hair, the flowers, the rehearsal- everything.
“We left home about midnight last night to get here for our flight. They let us check in and get past passport control - we were about 10 mins away from boarding when our flight was cancelled out of the blue.”
Up to 36 more friends, including the best man, were set to head to Gran Canaria on another monarch flight later in the week.
Jee said that his fiancé, who asked not to be named, had called yesterday over concerns about Monarch and they were told it would just be package holidays that were affected, not direct flights.
Now, the group say they have been completely abandoned by the airline while they desperately try to get everyone to Gran Canaria for the wedding.
As one of the group is a young boy who needs a wheelchair, Jee asked whether the company would be able to provide a hotel room for the wait, but the wedding party were told they are “on their own”.
“Monarch haven’t done anything to help us,” Jee said. They are a bunch of no-good c***s. They have no consideration.”
The group, who were originally all meant to fly together, have now been able to book on to four separate flights - at the cost of around £12,000.
“The flights were originally £120 each - some of them are now up to £480,” he explained. “Not to mention an extra €500 for airport transfers.”
Alison Young, from Surrey, was due to travel to Faro on Monday morning with her boyfriend.
She told HuffPost UK the atmosphere at Gatwick Airport was “very tense”, adding: “A lot of people are either angry or upset.
“We’ve seen a group of young girls in tears because their holiday was cancelled. And another couple were crying because they were due to go on their honeymoon.”
The 21-year-old said that when she and her partner arrived at the airport they were told all the flights were cancelled and they were given the contact details of the CAA.
“But if you’re calling from the UK you wait through a five-minute voice message that tells you they won’t be answering your call because they’re busy dealing with people that are overseas already.
“If you want to book another flight it all comes out of your own expense. Luckily I managed to quickly book a flight with easyJet and I checked that our hotel booking was okay as we’d booked a package holiday through monarch.
“We’re now just waiting in Gatwick for 12 hours until our flight.
“Obviously we were quite angry, but we’re okay now that we’ve secured other flights.”
Passengers are being flown to Gatwick and taken on buses to Luton Airport and Birmingham Airport, HuffPost has been told.
Monarch passengers were sent a text message on Monday morning informing them that all flights have been cancelled and urging them not to got to the airport.
The airline’s bank of check-in desks - usually busy with holiday makers and business travellers at this time - stand completely empty, with signs informing customers the company has “ceased to trade”.
One Monarch Airlines employee, who spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity, said staff are “shocked” and were left to find out details of the closure from media reports.
“We did receive an email from Andrew Swaffield (chief executive of Monarch) and from the administrators in the morning, but it was the news that really told us the facts,” the employee said.
“We had a briefing, then cleared our stuff and that’s it.
“People are sad, some have worked here for 20+ years and some people are really close. We are all shocked to different degrees.
“From here it’s proceedural stuff, redundancy, pensions etc and finding a new job.”
Meanwhile, advice handed out to travellers by an airport official at the now-unoccupied Monarch customer service desks tells passengers to “leave the airport and find out whether your flight or holiday can be re-booked with another airline or refunded”.
The situation has created confusion for those waiting for flights back to the UK.
Andrea Gubas, 28, is currently in Zagreb, Croatia, and is trying to get back to her home in London.
She said that people are at the airport confused over what steps they should take next.
“Luckily, I think they have a British Airways aircraft that should take out back to Gatwick, however, people at the airport are mostly clueless as to how to proceed,” Gubas told HuffPost UK.
“I only flew a few times (with Monarch), but I never had any problems such as delays or cancellations. I was happy with them, I think they tried really hard to make passengers journeys really comfortable.
“I am really sad about the news. It doesn’t help that it was the only low-budget airline flying to Zagreb.”
Tom Zanelli, 27, from Brighton, was due to fly to Croatia with his partner on Saturday with another airline, but was supposed to be on a return flight with Monarch.
He told HuffPost UK that the hotline number he called for advice was “no help whatsoever” and slammed the airline for letting him pay for allocated seating online last night before the news broke that they were going into administration.
“Now I need to speak to the provider to see if they’ll offer me new flights or if I’ll have to pay for new ones,” he said.
Jane Victor-Trott was heading to Benidorm for a week’s holiday with her boyfriend but when the pair received a text at 4am telling them their flight had been cancelled, they were already on the airport shuttle bus from the car park to the terminal.
“We were told by the driver to get off the bus,” Victor-Trott told HuffPost UK.
“We refused, but when we got to the airport, we were repeatedly told by staff to go home and rebook from there.
“But we have paid for petrol, parking, everything - we were not just going to turn back.”
Victor-Trott, who sells new homes, continued: “I work so hard, I really need a break. I was not going to be told to go home.”
After spending three hours on her phone looking for flights, she was finally able to find an easyJet flight out to Alicante later today.
“It has cost us an additional £250, on top of the £300 we spent on the original Monarch flights,” she said.
Not all travellers found today’s news quite so disruptive though.
Sharon and Elaine, who were flying from Dubrovnik on one of the first rescheduled flights back to the UK, said it was “as if nothing had happened”.
“We got the text saying our flight was cancelled first thing and there were definite alarm bells,” the pair said.
“But there were really clear instructions. The only thing that was different was the flight code - everything else was the same.
“In the end, the plane was bigger and there were more free seats - so the flight was actually more comfortable.”
Leah and Ali Collie, who were on the same flight, had a similarly easy experience, calling it “perfect”.
“It was that easy- the flight was fantastic. In fact, we have arrived 5 minutes early.”
As news circulated about Monarch’s perilous situation, Gatwick’s south terminal began to empty as Monday lunchtime approached.
Last week, Monarch was forced to deny “negative speculation” that the firm is in financial trouble, issuing a rebuttal after its Twitter feed was inundated with customers asking if it was “going bust”.
But it signalled it would still make a profit this year despite admitting it was going through a “difficult period” following terrorist atrocities, Brexit and the plunging pound.
The firm has long faced financial difficulties having agreed a rescue deal three years ago that saw pay cuts of up to 30% for staff and hundreds of redundancies.
The CAA described the collapse as the “the biggest ever UK airline failure”, but said more than 30 planes will be chartered to bring those whose flights have been cancelled home within the next fortnight.
It also said holidaymakers abroad do not need to cut short their breaks to return home, and will not incur any extra costs because of the changes.
The UK’s airline regulator had been expected to announce on Monday whether Monarch would be able to continue selling package holidays after being granted an extension to its licence to sell holidays protected by its professional trade association, Atol.
UK travel firms selling holidays and flights are required to hold an Atol, which protects customers with pre-booked holidays from being stranded abroad in the event of circumstances such as the company ceasing to trade.
Just after midnight, it was announced that Monarch would cease operating, with all flights cancelled.