BA flight 2036 was due to depart from Orlando on Thursday evening, 1 November. A technical fault – believed to be a heat sensor on the brakes – could not be fixed.
Passengers sat on the aircraft for several hours before the decision was taken to abandon the departure and put everyone up in hotels.
The airline handed passengers a letter saying that a technical defect had caused a 27-hour delay.
They were brought back to the airport on Friday night with the intention of flying back on the original plane.
An engineer had been dispatched with spare parts on the Friday morning flight from Gatwick to Orlando, but a weather diversion meant that the plane arrived later than expected.
The additional delay meant the rescheduled flight 2036 was again delayed and took off shortly after midnight on Saturday morning.
After half-an-hour, the captain announced that the fault had re-occurred and that the plane would be heading back to Orlando. Shortly afterwards the Boeing 777 turned again and headed north to New York’s JFK airport, where it arrived at 3.30am – with fire trucks in attendance as a precaution.
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, BA is obliged to provide accommodation and meals for travellers who are delayed overnight.
But the airline chose to divert the aircraft to JFK – rather than another East Coast base such as Washington DC – over the New York Marathon weekend, when most accommodation was already booked.
Passengers were told to reclaim their baggage and go to BA’s Terminal 7. Here, Transportation Security Administration staff asked why they had been sent there.
“It soon became apparent that no-one was expecting 400 people and their luggage to turn up at check-in,” said Nick Harrison, one of the passengers.
Rosie Slater-Watts tweeted: “#BA2036 deplorable service. Cannot believe our children had to sleep on the floor of an airport terminal for five and a half hours whilst you advise that you are looking after us.”
The flight eventually left New York late on Saturday evening and arrived at Gatwick more than 48 hours behind the original schedule.
A spokesperson for British Airways told The Independent: “Our Orlando to Gatwick flight had to divert to JFK as a precaution after a minor technical fault.”
BA said some passengers had been found hotel rooms, and others had been accommodated in the Concorde Lounge, which is normally reserved for first-class passengers.
Each passenger is entitled to €600 (£525) in compensation under European rules, although this does not seem to have been explicitly mentioned on any of the letters British Airways gave to passengers.
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