TUI flight nightmare as passengers suffer 27-hour delay

Delays to Exeter-bound flight at Corfu Airport
-Credit: (Image: Samantha Wright)

A disabled holidaymaker endured a journey from hell after a 27-hour delay to her Exeter bound flight. Samantha Wright, from Bideford, was one of dozens of passengers stranded at Corfu Airport over the weekend after their TUI aircraft suffered repeated breakdowns.

During a bizarre delay she spent seven hours in her seat waiting for the plane to take off, was taken to a hotel with no disabled access and finally grabbed a couple of hours sleep in an 'adult only' room with mirrors on the ceiling.

Weary passengers slept on the floor in the airport as the delay dragged on, using luggage as makeshift cushions and squeezing onto benches. A replacement plane arrived but could not get off the ground due to a leak. Confused cabin crew appeared to have no idea where Exeter was.

There were cheers from passengers when the flight home finally took off and landed back in the UK. Samantha says passengers went through every emotion - anger, frustration, dark humour and despair - before finally getting home late on Saturday night. She says a 'Dunkirk spirit' developed as passengers who were previously strangers became friends due to being confined in the plane and airport lounge for hours on end.

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TUI has since apologied for all those caught up in the chaos which started on Friday evening when Samantha received a text notifying her of delays while on route to the airport.

Once in the airport lounge the delays increased. Passengers were told that the plane due to carry them home had developed problems. "Apparently the fuel gauge was reading as empty," said Sam. A replacement aircraft came from Manchester but things only got worse.

"We spent seven hours sat on the plane," said Sam, who had enjoyed an "amazing" holiday on the Mediterranean island with her 19-year-old son and his friend. Passengers grew increasingly restless and dispirited as mechanics carrying tools arrived and started working on the plane.

Delays to Exeter flight at Corfu Airport
Delays to Exeter flight at Corfu Airport -Credit:Samantha Wright

Spirits weren't lifted by the sight of workmen carrying mops sponging up an apparent hydraulics leak.

"We were disembarked and returned to the airport and given a five Euro voucher, which was enough for a bottle of water," said Samantha. "It was about 2am Corfu time. There were people asleep all over the place.

"People were really calm about it. There was nothing anybody could do. The TUI rep said she'd like to give us information but she didn't know anything so if she gave us information it would be wrong."

Eventually, Samantha was told she could go to a hotel for the night until the problems were resolved. But her hopes of a peaceful rest were dashed when she got there and found it was not wheelchair suitable.

"I expressly told the rep that I'd need a taxi and the hotel must be accessible. They reassured me it would all be absolutely fine and not to worry.

"But when I got the hotel I couldn't even get through the door. I asked if they had any bathroom with handrails and they told me no."

Up until that point Samantha had endured the delays with stoic good humour but admits she lost her temper with the TUI rep after being told it was all they could offer. "I'd spent all this time in a wheelchair," she says.

A second hotel was found. "We went to the hotel and managed to get a couple of hours sleep before we went back to the airport," she says. "It felt a bit like it was an adult only hotel. There were mirrors on the ceiling and it was all very strange. We didn't spend anytime looking around. On the way out we kept our eyes fixed on the floor."

Hopes were high that the plane would finally get off the ground. But once in their seats passengers endured a final three-hour delay.

-Credit:Samantha Wright
-Credit:Samantha Wright

"We returned to the airport, boarded the plane and there another delay because another fault was found with an engine gauge, said Samantha. "We realised something was not right when we saw the same engineer from the night before. It went on for three hours. It all looked a bit grim and I thought we'd be disembarked again."

Passengers joked about providing duct tape and Blu Tack to stick the plane back together. "The cabin crew were lovely," she said. "They handed out bottles of water and knew as much as we did. One of them didn't know where Exeter was and asked me if it was near Minehead."

By this point patience was starting to wear thin for some.

"Some people were effing and jeffing and getting pretty annoyed," said Samantha. "Some were standing up but they got nowhere except in the way. One guy kept saying he was an engineer. I don't know in what, probably in fridges or washing machines but that's was no good to us.

"We were just sat there seeing these trucks turning up and nobody was saying anything about what the problem was. Most people just got on with it. There was nothing anybody could do and the British humour came through. The captain said there was no point in getting upset with the cabin crew.

"Then the captain advised us that the “engineer has advised that he is not doing any more tests and that we should just take off’ - strangely, no passenger complained about this rather gung-ho plan. When we took off everybody cheered."

Samantha, a barrister who was nearly killed in 2017 after being shot fives times in Anguilla, and other passengers are now pursuing compensation for the delays. She had received a number of apology letters from the company.

A spokesperson for TUI said: "We would like to apologise to customers who were delayed on their departure from Corfu to Exeter on flight TOM6543 over the weekend. This is not the experience we want for our customers at the end of their holiday. Unfortunately, due to a technical issue with the aircraft we were unable to depart as scheduled.

"We understand how frustrating this is for our customers and apologise for the delay, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our upmost priority. We can confirm that all customers are entitled to claim compensation and we’ve been in touch to let them know how to arrange this."