The host of BBC Question Time, David Dimbleby, was among hundreds of travellers who missed their flights from Stansted yesterday after Ryanair failed to open enough check-in desks.
The low-cost carrier is being blamed for only opening 11 check-in desks for 255 fights on what is one of the busiest weekends on the holiday calendar.
About 500 passengers were faced with booked alternative flights or cancelling their holidays, and some, including those with young children, were sleeping in the terminal.
Despite arriving in good time, many passengers had to watch their flights depart while they waited to check in or drop their bags. Police officers at the terminal were called upon to ease the mounting tension and help out with co-ordinating the queues.
The chaos has called into question the airline’s policy of encouraging passengers to check in online, and saying it plans to scrap check-in altogether from October.
Dimbleby, 70, with his wife and family, had been due to fly to Toulon, in the south of France, but were still holding their luggage when their plane departed at 6.35pm, 95 minutes after the check-in desk opened and almost two hours after he had arrived at the airport.
He told The Times: “It’s a nightmare. Ryanair have abdicated responsibility. They have not spoken to any of these people, there have not been any public announcements and they have not said when the flights are called.
“They sell tickets for flights and don’t operate a check-in but are quite happy to take everyone’s money. The police are here with machineguns, supposed to be protecting us from terrorists, but they end up protecting Ryanair ticket sellers. It’s absurd.”
Ryanair subcontracts its check-in desks to Swissport. The airline issued a statement apologies to the passengers concerned. It also said that it operates an on-line check in service for all its passengers, and that no passengers are required to queue to check in at the airport - although it failed to mention that families with infant must check-in baggage and use its bag-drop facilities.