“Your flight operated at the earliest opportunity” – that was the message to around 200 Tui passengers who had been waiting since Saturday to fly home from the Canary Island of Gran Canaria.
They finally touched down on Wednesday morning at Manchester airport, almost 80 hours late, aboard a jet chartered from the Spanish airline Wamos.
Many of them, though, had no luggage. The passengers had checked in on Saturday and been denied access to their bags. But despite being in Las Palmas for five days, some of the baggage was not loaded on to the aircraft.
“Well Tui UK, what can I say?” tweeted Graeme Wharton. “A totally inept, clueless company with absolutely no customer service skills.
“Thanks for ruining my holiday.”
Holidaymakers were given letters from the travel firm that blamed the weekend sandstorm in the Canaries: “Your flight was delayed due to operational disruption caused by adverse weather conditions in the Canary Islands.”
Yet many passengers were furious after a succession of promised departures were missed because of crew going “out-of-hours” and mechanical failures.
Many holidaymakers with tickets to Cardiff and Manchester were forced to spend Monday night at the airport after another flight cancellation.
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, airlines that cancel flights and leave travellers stranded overnight are required to provide hotels.
But while the pilots and cabin crew were provided with accommodation, their passengers had to fend for themselves at the airport – without any checked luggage, which had been taken from the passengers on Saturday.
While the Cardiff flight finally got away on Tuesday afternoon, the Manchester aircraft “went tech”: flight 934 was cancelled once again.
Tui staff instructed angry passengers to stop filming scenes in the departure lounge as the long-delayed flight was grounded for the night.
Alison Brown, who was waiting for her children to return from the island, reported: “They are being escorted under armed guard through the terminal to buses, thence to hotels, with the idea that they’ll be brought back at midnight by which time the plane will be fixed.”
One passenger, who wants to remain anonymous, was on a cruise holiday with family members aged between seven and 75, called the travel firm’s attitude “absolutely appalling”.
“We knew more ringing the contact centre in the UK than the staff did There were no Tui personnel whatsoever.
“Every day we’ve been sitting in an airport, we’re more tired than we were when we went.”
When it became clear that many of the passengers’ bags had not been flown on the plane, one traveller said: “We asked Tui before we were left to make sure our bags were on the plane.
“They said: ‘Yeah, yeah, they know what they are doing, all the bags will have been switched to the right flight’.”
The company has finally agreed to pay compensation due under European air passengers’ rights rules – not for the original weather delay, but for the subsequent operational problems.
It said it would send each traveller a cheque for the equivalent of €400.
Attention is now turning to a planeload of Jet2 passengers whose flight home from Tenerife to East Midlands was cancelled on Sunday. They are currently in mainland Spain, with their final flight scheduled for Wednesday evening,
Sarah Wallington tweeted: “LS4304 from Tenerife to East Midlands on Sun 23rd Feb. It’s now Weds 26th Feb and we have been flown to Malaga with no baggage and told we have a flight at 10pm tonight.
“Start prioritising getting children out of here!”
Another passenger, Laura Taylor, tweeted: "Been trying to get home from Tenerife since Sunday. Now stranded in Malaga with no baggage. I’ve been given no supplies for my baby. It’s appalling."
The Independent has asked Tui and Jet2 for a response.