Budget airline Norwegian sparked chaos and outrage after a ‘technical fault’ with its planes left hundreds of passengers stranded inside a terminal at Gatwick Airport for close to 24 hours without anywhere to sleep or shower.
The New York-bound passengers, including this DailyMail.com editor, were originally scheduled to depart London on flight DI7013 at 7.45am on March 26, however their first plane was forced to return to the airport after three hours on the tarmac because of a ‘technical issue’ with one of the engines.
The travelers were then sent back into the airport’s Departures area, through baggage claim, passport control, and security, where they were told another plane would be ready within a few hours – a flight which was then delayed a further five times, eventually taking off at 4.45am on March 27, a staggering 21 hours after its scheduled departure time.
Outrage: Norwegian Airlines left hundreds of New York-bound passengers stranded at Gatwick Airport in London for 24 hours after ‘technical issues’ delayed their flight
Riots: The passengers’ requests for a hotel were repeatedly refused and they were given just £50 ($70) in food vouchers over the course of 18 hours
Fury: Norwegian Airlines staff prompted further outrage among passengers when they gave conflicting information about when, or even if, the plane would take off
During this time, passengers were told they had to wait in the airport terminal until further information could be given by Norwegian Airlines staff or cancel their flight altogether, which would allow them to get their checked baggage back and leave the airport.
Those who chose to stay, however, say they were subjected to hours of waiting with little to no information from staff, with many receiving updates via text messages, which informed them of numerous delays to their travel, updates that Norwegian Airlines staff members claimed they knew nothing about.
Passengers’ request for a hotel were repeatedly refused by staff, who insisted that, because the flight was merely delayed by a few hours, the airline was ‘not required’ to provide overnight accommodation.
Instead, those who chose to stay and wait for the plane were given a total of £50 ($70) in food vouchers, which were handed out in three lots over the course of 18 hours.
The passengers’ ordeal began when they boarded a flight from Gatwick to New York shortly after 7.40am on March 26; the plane was being operated by Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly, which had been brought in by Norwegian to help cope with the demand for flights.
‘The plane wasn’t fit for a transatlantic flight,’ one 21-year-old British passenger, who was traveling to New York for a vacation with her friends, told DailyMail.com.
‘The toilet was broken, the seats were narrow, the airplane was ancient. It looked like it shouldn’t have been used for anything other than a budget holiday to Ibiza.’
Another person on the flight hit out at the ‘shocking’ levels of customer service, explaining that he cut his hand after boarding the plane and was refused proper first aid by the crew, who told him that use of the on-board first aid kit was a service reserved for ‘premium passengers’.
‘I had a razor in my bag and when I went to get something out of it I cut my finger quite badly,’ the Swedish-born 33-year-old explained.
‘When I asked if they had a first aid kit with gauze in it, I was told that the first aid kit was a premium service. All they would give me was one tiny Band-Aid for a huge cut.’
Others noted their disbelief and shock during the boarding process, when a young family with two infant children in a pushchair were told to move out of the way and ‘wait to one side’ in order to make way for the premium passengers.
The Hi Fly plane eventually left the gate, around 30 minutes after its scheduled departure time. However, just 15 or so minutes later, the pilot told passengers that the plane had a ‘technical fault’ and had to return to the gate in order to be inspected.
The beginning: The ordeal began after the passengers’ original plane had to return to the terminal because of ‘technical issues’
Confusion: After being sent through passport control and into baggage reclaim, the passengers were given little to no information about their flight and its future scheduling
Shocking: The original flight (pictured) was operated by Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly, which is said to have been brought in by Norwegian Airlines to help cope with flight demand
Disaster: One passenger told DailyMail.com that he was denied first aid when he cut his finger on the Hi Fly plane by flight attendants, who told him that first aid was a ‘premium’ service
Passengers were informed that they would not be required to leave the craft during the inspection, and that once it had taken place and the ‘fault’ had been rectified, the plane would take off.
However, after a further wait, passengers were informed by the pilot that the plane was unfit to fly, and that the flight had therefore been cancelled; they were then told that a bus would be sent to take them from the plane to the terminal where Norwegian staff would be on-hand to provide more information.
After waiting for over an hour, passengers were eventually put on a bus to return to the terminal – where staff were unable to direct them as to where they should go. In the end, half the group were sent through passport control and into baggage reclaim, while the other half were sent through international connections and back into Departures.
Those who were sent through passport control were left waiting for an hour in baggage reclaim, during which time Norwegian staff repeatedly changed their minds about whether the flight was simply delayed, or actually cancelled, while admitting that they were unable to confirm where passengers’ luggage was.
Eventually, people were told by Norwegian staff to make their way through customs, into Arrivals, and back into the terminal through security, a plan which caused chaos in the airport when passengers were left unable to go through the security gates with their old boarding passes.
‘Someone at Norwegian made a huge muck-up,’ one Gatwick security member told the crowd of passengers. ‘Your boarding passes are not going to work, so we have to get the OK from our bosses to open the gates and let you through with manual boarding pass checks.’
Further issues were then created for those who had already purchased liquids in Duty Free as they attempted to take them back through security.
Once back in the Departures area, passengers were told by staff, and on text message, to await further information at 12pm.
This was then pushed back until 12.50pm, when staff began handing out £15 ($21) food vouchers to each passenger while explaining that a new plane was being brought in to replace the original flight; a new departure time of 9.30pm was then given, and people were once again told that they either had to wait inside the terminal, or cancel their flight, collect their baggage and leave the airport.
‘Chaos’: Passengers were repeatedly given conflicting information by airline staff, who faced a furious mob after the flight was delayed for a fourth time and pushed back to 2am on March 27
Social media scene: Numerous passengers shared videos of the furious outcry on Instagram and Twitter, with videos showing staff being yelled at by frustrated travelers
Support? Numerous people attempted to contact the airline via Twitter, however after being asked to send flight confirmations via private message, their requests went unanswered
Ongoing nightmare: Passengers received little information during their time in the terminal, with information boards simply asking them to ‘please wait’ while every other flight took off
Family fury: One man revealed that his parents had been traveling to New York to celebrate their 60th birthdays, with the shocking delay taking up an entire day of their five-day trip
A silver lining: Some passengers came together to get through the delay as a group
While some passengers chose to book onto another flight, many people chose to stay – including several passengers with young children, numerous senior citizens, and a few people who had originally been set to fly to JFK on a flight from Paris on March 25, only to have their first flight make an emergency landing at Gatwick because of a technical fault.
‘I have been here since yesterday morning,’ one man, who was put up in a hotel on the Sunday night by Norwegian Airlines, told DailyMail.com. ‘It is getting ridiculous. I just want to get out of here and get on a working flight to New York!’
Many people sought refuge in the airport’s bars and restaurants, while some chose to try and get some rest in the Departure waiting areas.
Shortly before passengers began making their way to the departure gate, however, another text was sent from Norwegian informing them that the flight had been further delayed until 2am – a message which sparked fury among the group, and saw a near-riot break out in front of the flight information desk as staff admitted that they had little information about why there had been another delay.
‘The plane that we have brought in to take you to JFK needs a new part,’ a staff member told the irate crowd.
‘This part has to be driven from Derby to London and then installed by engineers. Once this is done we can get you on your way, but at the moment the best estimate we can give is a 2am departure time.
‘Once the part is here we will have more information.’
He later added: ‘I have been told by engineers that the part will take between an hour and an hour and a half to install once it is here. As soon as that process is underway we can begin boarding.’
‘You’ve been telling us the same thing since this morning when you told us another aircraft was coming!’ one passenger is heard yelling in video footage taken inside the airport, while cries: ‘What about our luggage? Where are we sleeping tonight?!’
Others demanded to know the number of the aircraft being brought in to replace the original plane, however staff admitted that they weren’t able to offer that information.
When questioned about why so many different pieces of information had been given to passengers throughout the day, one Norwegian Airlines staff member – named Lazlo – was only able to say that he had ‘offered passengers all the information they had been given when they were given it’.
Passengers refused to be calmed however, with an angry mob gathering around the desk and demanding more information, while accusing the staff of repeatedly ‘lying’ and giving ‘false information’.
Uniformed police officers were then brought in to ‘calm’ the situation, and remained on patrol throughout the rest of the ordeal, escorting Norwegian Airlines staff whenever they had a further announcement to make.
‘I have a young child with me who has now been in this airport for over 16 hours,’ one woman told a Norwegian Airlines manager. ‘I want to know when we are going to get out of here!’
Rough times: Despite being left in the airport until nearly 5am, passengers were given nowhere to sleep, and some resorted to bedding down on the floor in the terminal
Exhaustion: Others made do with the seating available in the airport, however their sleeping positions looked far from comfortable
Desperate measures: Some chose to lay down in the children’s play area, because it had a padded floor
Resting place: The children’s play area provided people with a chance to stretch out and lie down, however the bright lights made it near-impossible to sleep
Stuck: Some passengers sought refuge in the airport’s restaurants and bars, however all of them completely closed at 11pm, leaving them with nowhere to go but the terminal’s seating
Onward: Police officers were brought in to restore order (left) after furious passengers began yelling at the Norwegian Airlines staff
‘The frustrating thing is the total lack of information we were given,’ a 22-year-old passenger told DailyMail.com, adding that he was unable to cancel his flight with Norwegian Airlines and book alternative travel with another carrier because the cheapest option he could find was over £1,500 and that wasn’t something he could afford.
‘I’ve basically been left with no options other than to wait for Norwegian to get me to New York,’ he added.
Another person said that they felt like Norwegian Airlines was ‘playing mind games’ with them, admitting that he believed the budget airline ‘knew it would be leaving people with no way out’.
‘We’re at the mercy of people who seem like they have no idea what they are doing,’ he said.
Passengers’ repeated requests for hotel rooms were denied by Norwegian staff who said that because the flight was merely delayed, and not officially cancelled, they were not required to provide overnight accommodation for anyone.
Instead, more food vouchers were given out, although the airport’s restaurants and bars all closed by 11pm, along with a limited number of blankets and pillows. Passengers were then forced to bed down on the floor, in the waiting area seats, and even in a children’s play area – which was deemed the most comfortable option because it had a padded floor.
Others chose to leave the airport and seek alternative travel, although many people noted that this was not an option for them because of limited funds, with a number having already spent all they could afford in order to enjoy a trip to New York.
‘I’m traveling with one of my mates for her 21st birthday and we literally have a few days in the city before we have to turn around and come home,’ one Essex resident told DailyMail.com.
‘We’ve now spent one of those days in an airport, and she’s devastated. Nobody has given us a proper explanation about why this has happened or why on earth we’ve been stuck here for so long, we just keep being told there are more delays.
‘I don’t believe a word they say anymore.’
Shockingly, the 2am delay was not the end of the disappointment and frustration that passengers would have to suffer. Just hours after being assured by staff that the spare part was on its way from Derby, another text message was sent informing the travelers that their flight had been further delayed – this time until 3.30am.
‘That for me was it,’ one person admitted to DailyMail.com. ‘At what point was it going to end? I just lost it and started yelling. There wasn’t anything else I could think to do. I was exhausted, my family was exhausted and I was sick and tired of the lies.’
‘The transport that was bringing the spare part from Derby was delayed,’ a representative from Norwegian Airlines told the horrified crowd. ‘There was an oil spill that caused traffic on the road.’
The final straw: After people made their way to the gate, the airplane was visible from outside the terminal windows, however it was still awaiting a part that was being delivered from Derby
Endless delays: Passengers were updated about the numerous time changes via text message
The straw that broke the camel’s back: After people were told in this message that the flight had been pushed back to 2am, they began furiously lambasting the Norwegian Airlines staff
Here we go again: A final message was sent to travelers delaying the flight until 3.30am; it eventually took off at 4.45am
At last! Eventually passengers were boarded onto a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which took off at approximately 4.45am, 21 hours behind schedule
Two flight attendants were then sent out to try and quell the furious passengers, however they prompted further outrage when they seemingly attempted to garner sympathy for themselves, noting: ‘We’ve all come in on our days off to help you.’
They caused further upset when they claimed that the spare part would take just ten minutes to install – a far cry from the hour and a half staff members had previously insisted the process would take.
‘Why should we believe a single word that you are telling us?’ one passenger asked. ‘You have repeatedly lied, given us a load of s**t information, and expected us to just stay calm. It’s f*****g s**t and we are done with it.’
Another added: ‘We have been inside this airport for basically 24 hours and we’re actually going f*****g mad. What the hell do you expect from people when you keep them prisoner!?’
Eventually, the part arrived and was installed by engineers; passengers were re-issued boarding passes shortly before 4am on March 27, a process which prompted yet another outcry when those in premium class were whisked to the front of the line.
‘What the f**k is this?!’ one woman yelled as the premium passengers were taken into the gate waiting area; after her outburst she was taken for a ‘random’ security screening, during which time her bags were searched.
Apparently struggling with the stress of her ordeal, she began screaming at security staff to ‘stop talking to me’ while putting her hands over her ears and shaking her head vigorously as they went through her bags.
‘Look at that, they have actually driven us insane!’ one passenger commented while pointing at the distressed woman.
‘It’s very disappointing as a fellow Scandinavian to watch Norwegian so carelessly undermine consumer trust in the Nordic model of quality and efficiency,’ Swedish-born entrepreneur and passenger Carl Lööf told DailyMail.com of his ordeal.
Flight DI7013 eventually left Gatwick at 4.45am, 21 hours after its original departure time and around 24 hours after most passengers had arrived at the airport. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed at New York JFK at 7am local time on March 27, having been scheduled to land at 10am on March 26.
Passengers were told that the craft was flown in from Singapore to transport them from London to New York, while the pilot reiterated on the flight that the crew had ‘come in on their days off’ to service the flight, a fact which many on-board appeared less than impressed with.
‘We sincerely apologize to customers who were delayed on flight DI7013 from London Gatwick to New York on 26 March due to an aircraft technical issue,’ a Norwegian Airlines spokesperson told Daily Mail.
‘We understand that delays are frustrating for passengers, and to get them underway as quickly as possible, we had to source an aircraft part to resolve the technical issue. However, the aircraft part was delayed, and we subsequently took the decision to fly passengers on the next available replacement aircraft.
‘We considered making hotel arrangements for passengers but as the new departure time drew closer, we recommended passengers remain at the airport to ensure they could easily make the flight.
‘Passengers were given meal vouchers and received regular SMS text message updates about their flight with options which included the choice to rebook or refund their ticket free of charge.’