- People meant to fly from London to Italy told Insider their plane took off with no flyers on board.
- The Vueling service to Florence was hit by delays and staffing problems felt across the UK.
- Two passengers told Insider of a nightmarish process that ended with them being turned away.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
A Vueling flight took off from London's Gatwick Airport with no passengers, people who couldn't get on the plane told Insider.
Flight VY6209 to Florence, Italy, was supposed to take off at 8.20 p.m. on Monday, a day when British airports were struggling with huge delays that meant passengers missing flights.
It took off two hours late, at 10.34 p.m., according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24. Two people who didn't get on board said Vueling told them the plane flew empty.
Vueling and its parent group IAG did not respond to multiple attempts to reach them for comment.
Nisha Gupta said she got as far as the departure gate, where passengers could see the plane but nobody was allowed on.
Nisha Gupta @NishaNacho sent me this video of Gatwick airport check-in for her @vueling flight to Italy on Monday, and said it took more than 4 hours to check in her bag. She said staff announced the plane would fly without passengers so it could return before airspace closed. pic.twitter.com/CZIJErq8Tx— Kate Duffy (@kate__duffy) June 1, 2022
Gupta said a Vueling staffer at Gatwick told her and other passengers that a personnel shortage meant nobody was allowed on.
Ryan Westman, who was also due to fly, told Insider his wife was given the same message by Vueling staff. Both he and Gupta showed Insider proof they were booked to fly on the plane, and gave matching stories of what went wrong.
Both said the situation at the airport was chaotic and that passengers were given no communication in writing.
Instead, they were asked to wait for emails, which had not come as of Wednesday afternoon.
Gupta said there were huge delays in the airport, and that they soon found out their flight would be delayed.
She told Insider that she and her husband checked in online before arrival, but needed to queue to check luggage into the hold. This process, she said, took four hours.
Gupta described reaching the gate at Gatwick to be told that nobody could get on the plane due to staff shortages.
"Eventually we were told by staff that the pilots made a decision to fly the plane back empty without a single passenger onboard due to Florence airspace closing," she said.
She said she only saw three Vueling staff members throughout the day, and that people were not offered food or drinks.
"We got to the airport at 3 p.m. on Monday and did not leave until 2 a.m. 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."
She said that she and her husband ultimately booked themselves into a nearby hotel, and was told to watch her email for contact from the airline.
She said they had spent around £300 ($377 or R5,900) on their flights.
Westman, who was booked on the same flight, said that he and his wife also waited four hours to check their bags.
He said passengers had to pass messages from Vueling among themselves because there were too few people communicate with them directly. He said his wife was also told that the plane took off empty to reach Florence before a deadline.
Gatwick was one many European airports hit by both staff shortages and an increased number of flyers. This has resulted in hours-long queues in the airport and ruined journeys on a large scale.