EasyJet's care of passengers rapped as Belfast flight diverted
Angry Belfast-bound passengers have accused easyJet of "disgraceful" treatment after a bird strike forced their plane to turn back to Spain at the weekend.
A group of 11 Lurgan women on board the flight from Alicante on Friday hit out at the airline after it issued a statement claiming passengers were provided with overnight accommodation.
Ellen Carville, who was returning from a holiday with her family and friends, said most of the 200-plus people on board the plane were forced to spend the night sitting on chairs in the airport. And she said while many passengers were terrified after the pilot made his announcement, the real nightmare began when they landed back in Spain.
Ms Carville said: "The flight left at 9.40pm and we were about 40 minutes into it when the pilot said that we were turning back because one of the engines had been damaged by a bird strike.
"There was a really strange noise which stayed until the plane landed but everyone was very quiet, not a word was spoken. I think everybody was too scared to talk.
"The plane circled for some time round the airport and landed quite a distance from the terminal building. There was an ambulance waiting and the fire brigade inspected the engines of the plane before it was allowed to taxi to the terminal building.
"I was very calm but a lot of people getting off the plane were in a bit of a state."
It was after 11pm on Friday when the relieved but weary passengers arrived back in Spain.
They then spent over an hour waiting to reclaim their luggage, and Ms Carville said it was 2am before people got a chance to queue at the easyJet customer services desk to find out what was happening.
"There was a complete lack of communication from easyJet - not once did they make an announcement over the tannoy to let people know what was happening," she said.
"They were updating online apparently, but not everybody had access to that so passengers were relying on each other for information. We were given a voucher for €4.50 at 11.30pm and all the cafes closed at midnight.
"By the time we got our luggage and queued at customer services we were told we had to get our own hotel and transfers and could claim them back, but we had to be back in the airport by 8am. At that stage in the night it wasn't worth our while. Some people did book hotels but only got two hours sleep and others had no money to book a hotel or pay for a taxi to get there.
"We had elderly people and one disabled person in our group and we had to spend the night sitting in chairs."
EasyJet gave each passenger a voucher for €9 to cover the cost of breakfast and a new flight was arranged for 11.10am on Saturday morning. This flight was delayed by an hour and Ms Carville said no announcements were made.
"Even when we were finally boarding, the information screens in the airport were still showing an 11.10am departure, they hadn't updated it," she said.
"Again we were relying on other passengers for information. It was disgraceful how little communication there was from easyJet."
A spokesman for the company said: "“Whilst we were able to secure rooms in Alicante for the majority of passengers delayed overnight, due to limited availability in the area we also informed customers they could source their own accommodation and we would reimburse them.
“We understand that some passengers remained in the airport and they will also be reimbursed for any expenses incurred as a result of the delay.
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is our highest priority and whilst this was outside of our control we would like to apologise to passengers for the inconvenience and thank them for their patience and understanding.”