British Airways passengers spend Christmas waiting at San José airport

‘People in the queue were begging the staff for an alternative,’ said passenger Jo Mitchell

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 27 December 2021 08:59 GMT
'No information from BA': Passengers miss Christmas after 50-hour flight delay

Around 200 British Airways passengers from Costa Rica who were due back on Christmas Eve morning are now expected to touch down in the UK on Boxing Day afternoon.

Flight BA2236 was due to leave San José for London Gatwick on the evening of 23 December. Initially the passengers were told to expect a 90-minute delay on their overnight trip.

But the Boeing 777 that was due to fly them suffered a cracked windscreen and required specialised attention.

Jo Mitchell and Geir Olafsson had been on honeymoon in Costa Rica, and set off from their Pacific coast resort expecting to return via Gatwick to Edinburgh in time for a family Christmas.

Dr Mitchell told The Independent: “My husband is part-Icelandic and his family who live in Edinburgh celebrate Christmas on 24 December.

“We were desperately trying to find a connecting flight at this point that would get us there in time to not miss his family Christmas.

“The BA app was saying something vague about the flight being delayed to the next day. The flight time however, only showed a four-hour delay.  We had received no information via email or message so we hoped it was just a glitch.

“We dropped our car and continued to the airport, desperately hoping it wasn’t true.”

They queued at the airport for several hours. “The only indication of the delay was what we could hear from people talking in the queue, and the fact that everyone who went to check in left the desk with their suitcases,” said Dr Mitchell.

“We were told when it was our turn to check in by the San José desk staff that the plane had a broken windshield and it would be too dangerous to fly it back.

“At this point we were devastated – realising we would miss Christmas with both of our families.

“People in the queue were begging the staff for an alternative, some angry, some crying. People were breaking down in tears as this was the first they had been told that they were going to miss Christmas.”

After a night in a hotel where the only available meals were at a Denny’s fast-food restaurant, all the passengers were taken back to the airport on Christmas Eve for a planned 10pm departure, arriving around 11am on 25 December.

With no Christmas Day flights from Gatwick to Edinburgh, Dr Mitchell and Mr Olafsson booked a hire car online, costing for £450 for the 440-mile drive from Sussex to Scotland. They checked in their baggage and went through to departures.

But British Airways’ attempt to divert another plane from Jamaica to Costa Rica to pick them up on Christmas Eve failed because crew were approaching the end of their permitted working hours.

Dr Mitchell said “We arrived at the departure gate to find people running around and crying after receiving phone calls from family who told them the flight had been cancelled.

“We waited for 30 minutes in quite a panic before someone came to give an announcement, accompanied by a number of police officers.

“We had to wait for them to get some sort of letter to approve us back through security. That took a while and people were really frustrated having to wait even longer.”

The returned to the same hotel. “The hotel bar was closed so we couldn’t even drown our sorrows,” Dr Mitchell said.

The pilots and cabin crew also unexpectedly spent Christmas away from home.

On 25 December the replacement plane flew from Montego Bay to San José. But the planned 6.50pm departure slot for Gatwick was missed, apparently because of a discrepancy on passenger numbers.

Before the plane took off, several passengers tweeted British Airways. Alice Hill wrote: “The BA2236 from San José saga continues, 1h30 sat on the Tarmac as the ground staff failed to count who exactly is on the flight.

“BA cabin crew are excellent and as frustrated as us. Merry Christmas.”

Another passenger, Loki, wrote: “Your fk up is colossal. We’ve been stranded over Christmas two days flight BA2236. Absolutely no fault of the crew onboard, but your failure to communicate after what was an unfortunate tech issue is a disgrace.”

British Airways responded on Twitter: “We don’t underestimate the upset and frustration this delay has caused, Loki.

“We’re very sorry we were unable to get you home in time to celebrate Christmas. We assure you your comments have been fed back to the relevant teams.”

BA2236 finally left 50 hours late at 8.35pm on Christmas Day, and is expected to arrive shortly after 12 noon on 26 December.

A British Airways spokesperson told The Independent: “We would like to send a heartfelt apology to the customers on this flight, who have had their Christmas plans ruined. We will never fly an aircraft unless we feel it is completely safe to do so, and on this occasion, our engineers were unable to clear it to fly.

“Since then, our teams have been working behind the scenes to do all they can to ensure an aircraft is ready at the earliest opportunity to bring customers to London. We appreciate the patience and the understanding of our customers and our engineers and crew colleagues who have also done all they can to assist.”

British Airways has offered a full refund to all the affected passengers, and will also pay the £520 per person stipulated for long delays under air passengers’ rights rules.

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