Tui passengers sleep at Barbados airport after vehicle strikes plane

Exclusive: ‘We heard a loud bang half an hour before take-off... We were then told there was not enough hotel space for all’

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 08 March 2024 13:19 GMT
Related video: Tui sends plane to Africa instead of London Gatwick

Hundreds of Tui passengers have spent the night trying to sleep at Barbados airport after their flight home to London Gatwick was cancelled.

Tui flight TOM21 from the Caribbean island to Gatwick was preparing for an on-time departure at 5pm local time (9pm GMT), with 342 passengers on board.

But shortly before the aircraft was due to leave, a ground service vehicle struck the Boeing 787 jet.

One passenger, Mark Pantlin, told The Independent: “We heard a loud bang half an hour before take-off. It appears to have been a vehicle carrying disabled passengers striking the aircraft.

“We were told by captain that it had been inspected locally and that UK engineers had said we were good to fly. But 20 minutes later they told that they were looking again.

“We were then told flight was cancelled and we would be staying the night and they were sorting out alternative flights.”

Many flights left Barbados for the UK over the next few hours, including British Airways departures to both London Heathrow and Gatwick, two Virgin Atlantic jets to Heathrow and another to Manchester, plus Tui flights to Manchester, East Midlands and Birmingham. But Tui was not able to find seats on board any of those flights.

Mr Pantlin said passengers were told that the Barbados airport management would not let anyone off the plane until overnight accommodation was booked for everyone on board.

Eventually they were offloaded at 10pm, five hours after the flight was scheduled to leave.

“No Tui staff were seen for at least 45 minutes,” Mr Pantlin said. “We were then told there was not enough hotel space on the island for all.

“Tui then decided to put families with young children, and any disabled and older unwell people in hotels.

“Everybody else was left sleeping on chairs at night, with no pillows or blankets, and with no news still from Tui.”

Night moves: Barbados airport lounge, where Tui passengers were stranded overnight (Mark Pantlin)

A spokesperson for Tui told The Independent: “We would like to apologise to customers who were due to depart from Bridgetown to London Gatwick on flight TOM21 on 7 March. Unfortunately, in an incident out of our control, the aircraft was damaged as it prepared to depart.

“For the safety of our customers and crew, all customers disembarked the aircraft and remain in Bridgetown while safety procedures are performed.

“We understand how frustrating this is for our customers and apologise for the delay. Customers are being contacted directly by the Tui team when more information is available about their return to the UK and remain working tirelessly for accommodation options for those affected.”

Mr Pantlin summed up his view of the experience as: “Unbelievable levels of incompetence and lack of updates. Tui gave a massive two fingers up to most customers.”

It appears that a chartered Wamos Air Airbus A330 is on its way from Madrid to Barbados to pick up the stranded travellears.

Passengers will be able to claim £520 in cash compensation for the delay.

Tui has rejected any assertion that premium economy customer were offered hotel rooms in preference to other passengers.

In December, passengers on an Air France plane from the Caribbean to Paris that “went tech” in Guadeloupe were segregated, with only business-class customers provided with hotel rooms.

For more travel news, views and advice from Simon, download his daily Independent Travel podcast.

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