Passengers on a Virgin Atlantic flight bound for London Heathrow found themselves stranded on the tarmac at Hong Kong International Airport for more than seven hours on Friday, only to see their flight cancelled just as the plane prepared to finally take off.
The flight, VS207, was originally scheduled to take off at 11:55pm, but just as it was backing away from the gate, two of its tires were punctured by a piece of metal, according to a passenger on the flight, Stephane, who asked that he be identified only by his first name.
Rather than return the passengers to the terminal, the crew decided to have them wait on board while they repaired the tires.
However, as the wait stretched into hours, with the gate tantalizingly close, passengers began to grow uneasy — and hungry.
“We boarded at 11:20pm and disembarked after 6:26am,” Stephane said in a message to Coconuts HK. “Water was provided and only a tiny packet (10g) of pretzels and a mini muffin… we were so hungry.”
After some six and a half hours, it looked as though the plane might be able to take off, with the captain instructing the flight crew to ready the cabin for departure.
However, at that point, “because of staff working hours limit, they had to take us out of the plane,” Stephane said.
Due to safety concerns, there is a maximum number of hours crew members are allowed to work under the law, though regulations vary according to the jurisdiction.
A Hong Kong-based representative of Virgin confirmed to Coconuts HK yesterday that VS207 had been stuck on the tarmac for several hours due to a “technical issue,” and that the flight was ultimately cancelled, but declined to comment further, referring questions to the airline’s headquarters in the UK.
A Virgin public relations officer in the UK was unable to answer questions from Coconuts HK regarding the flight as of press time.
Stephane, meanwhile, faulted the captain for “poor judgment,” and holding the more than 200 passengers “hostage” for hours.
“Everyone was fuming,” he added.
And while the cabin crew was “fine and friendly,” he said, the final announcement that the flight had been cancelled drew jeers.
“When he [the captain] said at the end that we were going to disembark, people started shouting things like: you should have released us earlier,” Stephane said in a message.
He added that he had reached out to the airline about compensation, but had yet to receive a response.
Other passengers took to Twitter to voice their discontent. One tweeted at Virgin Airlines commending the airline’s customer service after the flight’s pilot personally visited the premium cabin to inform passengers about the delay. After six more hours of waiting, however, she took a markedly different tone: “@VirginAtlantic scrap my previous tweet..appalling service!!”
The incident was reminiscent of, if slightly less excruciating than, a recent United Airlines flight from Newark to Hong Kong that was stranded for 14 hours on a frigid Canadian runway after an emergency landing.
In the case of both flights, some passengers complained that the flights their bookings were transferred to were also delayed.