Passengers booked on a Vueling flight from Gatwick were told that their plane had departed empty because of delays at the airport.
Flight VY6209 had been due to take off for the Italian city of Florence at 8.20pm on Monday. The Airbus A319, which can carry up to 144 passengers, left nearly two hours late with no one on board for its 734-mile flight.
Nisha Gupta, 32, from Windsor, Berkshire, who was booked on the flight with her husband Ash, told PA they had to queue for more than four hours to check in luggage.
When they arrived at the departure gate they were then informed no passengers could board the plane because of a staff shortage.
She said: “Eventually we were told by staff that the pilots made a decision to fly the plane back empty without a single passenger on board due to Florence airspace closing.
“The environmental impact of this is insane and a decision was clearly made to prioritise cost implications over customer experience and environmental impact.
“Throughout this entire experience, there was a maximum of three staff members dealing with all Vueling flights that day.
“We got to the airport at 3pm and did not leave until 2am after having to wait around to give details to the one staff member dealing with all cancelled flights, taking details and trying to book people into hotels.
“No food or drinks were provided at all. Neither were any meal vouchers as per customer rights in the instance of a delay.”
The airline’s passengers at Gatwick continued to face problems. One posted a photograph showing a large crowd waiting to check in, with the caption: “Vueling, you need to get a grip of this absolute chaos at Gatwick.
“One member of staff to handle this many people is completely unacceptable. Do you understand the impact this has on people?”
The airline was approached by PA for comment.