At 2pm on Saturday, a planeload of Tui passengers who had expected to have just touched down at London Gatwick found themselves instead approaching an airport in North Africa after a flight across Sicily.
Flight 4651 was due to leave Lamezia Terme in southern Italy at 11am British time, arriving three hours later at the Sussex airport.
Onboard the Boeing 737 Max: 189 passengers, including young children, returning from Mediterranean holidays.
On the morning of travel they had been warned that they would be making an unscheduled diversion.
The flight was delayed until 1.10pm UK time. When it did take off, instead of the usual path northwest to London, the jet headed southwest to Tunisia.
The reason: the 737 was required to deliver a part for another aircraft to Enfidha airport on the Tunisian east coast.
After the 60-minute flight to North Africa, the plane sat on the ground for a further hour to drop off the part and refuel before a three-hour flight to Gatwick. Passengers landed over four hours late. The extra flying distance was 400 miles.
Airlines have the discretion to make such a diversion if it solves an operational problem.
A spokesperson for Tui said: “We can confirm that flight BY4651 made a short stop at Enfidha-Hammamet Airport in order to drop off equipment required at the airport for another aircraft.
“The equipment was for the TOM529 aircraft, which suffered a technical issue prior to its departure, and needed engineering support.”
The plane in question was an older Boeing 737, which had been due to fly from the Tunisian resort to Manchester.
The spokesperson added: “We’d like to apologise again for any inconvenience caused and thank customers for their patience and understanding.
“All customers were given a complimentary drink on board as a gesture of goodwill and all will be entitled to claim EU261 flight delay compensation.”
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, each passenger is entitled to £350 in cash after arriving three hours or more.
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