Police were called to calm unruly crowds at a mainline station after Southern Rail failed to put on enough replacement buses to take travellers to Gatwick.
Chaos broke out at Redhill station, Surrey, yesterday afternoon when thousands of “agitated” passengers were forced to wait for up to two hours in freezing conditions to board overcrowded buses to the airport.
The line had been closed for planning engineering works meaning key services, including the Gatwick Express, were cancelled.
But staff at the station became so “overwhelmed” with the bottleneck crowd that four police officers were called to the station to help.
Some travellers even missed their flights, including Melany Dominguez, who blamed the situation on “poor planning”. She estimated there were “thousands” of people queueing at Redhill.
“People were getting agitated,” she said. “I and a few young guys had to run all the way to the airport terminal once we arrived – I think they just made [their flight]. But I was on the 5pm to Madrid so I just missed it.”
Ms Dominguez said she would sleep in the airport overnight because she could not afford a hotel on top of the new £95 flight.
Cory Acasio described chaotic scenes of frustrated commuters tripping over and pushing one another.
“I stopped at the very front entrance to try and let an elderly person on, but no sooner did I make the gap that someone just barged right through, literally pushing me against the entrance,” he said.
He also saw passengers nearly trampling one another.
“Not sure if there were injuries as I was focused on moving forward, but I did look back and saw the people who tripped get up and some people did help, but most were just aggravated and focused on getting in the bus.”
Sharon O’Dea, from Barnes, who only just caught her flight to Denmark, added that staff were “struggling”.
“The queue broke down,” she said. “People were just walking straight to the front and barging on. I saw one elderly man just pushed out of the way by a woman of about my age.”
Several travellers took to Twitter to vent their anger. Marina Queralto wrote: “We’ve lost our Easy Jet flight from Gatwick Airport after waiting two hours in Redhill and now we have to pay for our new flights.”
Reigate and Banstead Tory councillor James King, 35, told the Standard that he and Tory MP for Crawley Crispin Blunt sacrificed their evenings to offer stranded passengers lifts to the airport.
In total, he took 12 people to the terminal, before messaging colleagues on WhatsApp to round up volunteers.
“It was chaos at the station and it didn’t sit right with me that people were missing flights,” he said.
“There were people packed like sardines at the station. I just randomly flagged people down who had suitcases and offered them a lift.
“Some insisted on giving me money. So I agreed to give it to charity – a charity of Southern Rail’s choosing.”
Southern Rail apologised for its handling of the works, which had been advertised since December.
It is the first of three consecutive weekends of cancellations between Redhill, Three Bridges and Gatwick.
A spokesman added: “Demand for the rail replacement service has been greater than expected.
“We will ensure that plans for upcoming weekend engineering works take a higher capacity requirement into consideration.”
A British Transport Police spokeswoman said: “We were called at 1.44pm to overcrowding at Redhill station and sent four officers to help with the crowd management and queuing system.”