Heavy sandstorms have hit the Canary Islands, causing severe travel disruption for thousands of British holidaymakers. 17 flights due to land at various Spanish airports were diverted on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd February 2020, with over 800 delays and cancellations.

Diversions include, Jet2’s flight from Birmingham which landed at Fuerteventura and Tui’s arrival from Cardiff which touched down at Tenerife South.

Two flights, one from Gatwick and the other from Bristol, were forced to turn back to the UK shortly after take-off.

All flights departing from Spain’s Aena airport were either suspended, diverted or cancelled on Sunday 23rd February 2020 leaving passengers stranded at airports.  Flights began experiencing issues after a sandstorm coming in from the Sahara started to affect visibility.  The runway at Las Palmas airport was closed completely, and passengers received very little information on when they would be able to fly home.

On Saturday 22nd February 2020, almost 800 passengers flying to Tenerife were disrupted as two Jet2 flights from Manchester to the Canary Islands touched down in Malaga and Alicante separately.

Winds of up to 75mph (120km/h) are expected to last until Monday 24th February 2020.

Ryanair has released a statement on its website regarding flight suspensions due to the Sahara sandstorm:

Ryanair regrets to advise flights in and out of Gran Canaria, Tenerife South and Lanzarote have been suspended after storms of red sand from Africa’s Saharan desert struck the Canary Islands.”

“Passengers are advised to verify the status of their flights before going to the airport.”

“Rescue flights are been planned to accommodate disrupted customers when visibility improves. Ryanair is currently establishing hotel availability which is limited.”

Jet2 has also updated its website in regards to the sandstorm stating they are ‘experiencing large delays to all flights.’ The airline has also confirmed there will be ‘no flights operating to the Canaries on Monday 24th February 2020.” Passengers who have flights booked for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are being advised to wait until their flight times have been confirmed at noon on Monday 24th February 2020 before travelling to the airport.

As extreme weather conditions are considered ‘extraordinary circumstances’ airlines are not obligated to provide passengers with compensation. However, those who have been affected by delays and cancellations, will be entitled to alternative flights, re-routing or a refund of any unused tickets. They may also be entitled to care and assistance, this will usually include the cost of food, drink, phone calls and accommodation where necessary.

Passengers whose flights have been delayed for more than 6-12 hours, may be able to claim a small benefit from their travel insurance company, however, the cover will differ from insurer to insurer so it is important travellers read their policy wordings carefully.