British Airways faced fresh criticism last night for a series of decisions that left 140 passengers sleeping on the floor at Venice airport – and Boeing jets shuttling empty back and forth across Europe. A BA flight from Gatwick to the Italian city last week was delayed by several hours because of a technical problem. When the plane arrived at Marco Polo airport, around 140 London-bound passengers had checked in and passed through security. But restrictions on duty hours meant the cabin crew were unable to operate the flight. A crew going "out of hours" is not uncommon, and airlines are legally obliged to provide hotel rooms for passengers. But the airline said that, due to the Venice Biennale, no spare beds could be found within a 100km radius of the airport.
The passengers and cabin crew were left in the departure lounge while the pilots – who had flown only the outbound sector, and were still within their legal hours – flew the plane back empty.
Kat Davis, one of the stranded passengers, told BBC London: "Before the staff left they told us that the airport was locked, and we couldn't leave. All the shops were shut apart from one café which stayed open until two or three in the morning. A few people were given water and were allowed to sleep in the Club Lounge, but not everybody."
A spokeswoman for BA said that the cabin crew had already worked prior to the Gatwick-Venice leg. But frequent flyers have expressed amazement that BA should dispatch a flight from Gatwick to the Italian city, knowing that the crew would not be able to operate the flight back.
A BA spokeswoman said that bringing in standby crew would have delayed the outbound departure further. What is not clear is why the airline decided to fly the empty plane back to Gatwick, and send another empty jet the next day, burning around £10,000-worth of fuel in the process. The airline said that the plane was needed for the morning wave of departures.
BA safety checks were under the spotlight last week after one of its flights was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow. The fault was blamed on a fan cowl that was left unlatched.