In 2011, Jon and I flew to Cyprus with our then 4-year old daughter and all our loved ones, to get married on the island of love. We encouraged the majority of our wedding party to fly Thomas Cook Airlines and book their package holiday with Thomas Cook, so we could all be near each other. Our Thomas Cook invoice totalled over ten thousand pounds – note this was not our wedding provider – that invoice was just travel, transfer and hotel costs. Most of the wedding party flew home after one week, but myself, my husband, our daughter, my best friend and her husband, flew home a week later, but still with Thomas Cook Airlines.
We boarded the plane, which was set to depart on time, however during the pre-flight checks, it was discovered that there was “a very small and very normal technical fault with the plane”. Those were the Thomas Cook pilots words. The fault turned out to be a stone chip on one of the engine blades, which quite simply need to be filed down before we could depart. We were initially told this would take about half an hour. We would still be taking our intended aircraft, there was no need to change planes or disembark.
After an hour, the pilot confessed they were having trouble finding the correct man to fix the fault. We were then told they couldn’t find the correct sized file for the job. When the correct man and tool were found, we sat on the plane, watching the work being carried out. We were then told, that whilst the job had been completed, that only one person on the island could “sign off” the work carried out and certify the plane as fit to fly. That man was in Paphos. We were in Larnaca. We were told this would take at least two hours, yet the pilot didn’t see any reason to disembark the plane.
We were trapped on that plane, still at the departure airport for over five and a half hours before the flight was cleared as safe for departure.
The whole time that we were on the aircraft, we were not allowed any food or drink. We had not eaten or drank at the airport as we had pre-paid for inflight meals, but apparently it was against regulation for the cabin crew to either give or sell us any food or drink. We were not allowed to go back into the airport to get a drink, even though the aircraft doors were still open and the airport corridor was still connected to the plane. We were allowed to stand in the corridor, off the aircraft, but we were not permitted to buy a drink to prevent dehydration, despite being in a hot country.
Children and vulnerable adults suffered the most. There were elderly people feeling unwell and getting distraught. There were angry men shouting. There were children crying because they were so thirsty and so hungry. A few random people were given a small cup of water – About 50ml to last between five. We gave it to the children. It was about three mouthfuls. That was it, there was no more. The cabin crew were snappy and unhelpful. One mentioned she had a packed lunch, but it was hers, so she didn’t want to share it. I talked her into giving up her crisps – one packet of wotsits to be shared amongst all of the children on the plane. They got about two crisps each. She told me I should be grateful for the big sacrifice she had made. I was standing there in tears, wondering how she could be so selfish – she was a grown woman and these were children crying.
The toilets were full and needed to be emptied before we could fly. Some people had been sick too. The plane was sweaty, smelly and full of emotional people. It also needed to be refuelled a second time.
Once the flight eventually took off, it still took a great deal of time before anyone brought us anything to eat or drink. In total we had been trapped on that plane for 7 hours with nothing to eat or drink. Our 4 year old daughter had spent most of that time sobbing, because she was hungry and thirsty, until she eventually fell asleep from exhaustion. When the first trolley came around, they had completely sold out of crisps and snacks by time they reached us, but we were finally able to get a drink – at full price of course. After 8 hours, our meal came. The cabin crew stated that our daughter “obviously wasn’t that hungry as she didn’t wake up for her meal”. The truth was, by that time it was late at night and we physically couldn’t wake her as she had no energy left. 7 hours is a very long time for a pre-schooler to go without food or drink and her usual bedtime was 7pm. I was utterly appalled by the cabin crew’s behaviour and when we eventually landed, over 5 hours delayed, in Bristol, I made it my first job to write an official complaint.
That was after we had found a way home of course. Our flight delay had caused us to miss our train home and there were no trains that late. Thomas Cook obviously had no interest in the fact we were stranded at the airport after their hellish flight. A relative came and picked us up and the following day we had to buy a new set of train tickets to get home. We couldn’t claim on insurance as the excesses were higher than the train tickets.
Surely the right to food and water is a basic human right? If we had been delayed in the airport, we would have been provided with complimentary food and drink vouchers, but because we had already boarded the plane, we got nothing. Not even a complimentary cup of tea. Nothing. After watching my poor little girl suffer for all those hours, and crying along with her for some of it, all I got was a bad attitude from the air hostess. Any time I asked for an update, she was rude to me. All I wanted was a drink and something to eat for my little girl, who didn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t have cared less about my own hunger pains or dehydration, but to do that to children was just inhumane.
Thomas Cook’s response? Well they basically wrote us a letter saying that they hadn’t done anything wrong and their actions were all above board. They reiterated that they can’t sell food or drink whilst the plane is grounded, made no excuse for the rude air hostess and didn’t see anything wrong with depriving a plane full of people of food and water. “Thank you for flying with Thomas Cook Airlines”.
They had known the repair was going to take several hours, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t have let us get off the plane to go to a shop and boarded us again when the repairs were complete. What would they have done if there had been diabetics on board?
I can’t begin to explain the anger I felt at having our wedding week ruined by this, but then that is only the first part of the story…
Having realised Thomas Cook had no intention of offering us any compensation as a gesture of goodwill for the terrible ordeal they put us through, I recently found out about the reality of claiming compensation for airline delays over 3 hours. Under EU regulation 261/2004 passengers are eligible for compensation for flights delayed by more than 3 hours, as long as the delay fulfils certain criteria.
Flight must be EU-regulated (taking off or landing in a European airport)… Check… We landed in Bristol, Somerset.
Flight arrival time must have been delayed more than three hours… check… ours landed five hours late.
Flight delay must have been the airlines fault – since a supreme court ruling, this includes minor or “normal” technical faults… like ours which was caused by a stone chip and regarded as general wear and tear.
You can claim back as far as 2005 – our flight was in 2011
We fulfil all these criteria, so I put in a claim. Due to the length of delay, we are entitled to 400 Euros per person and we are claiming for the five of us who got stuck on that plane. Our four hour flight ended up taking ten hours. However the 2000 Euros which we are entitled to claim (currently exchangeable for about £1450 or £290 per person) is nothing compared to the ten thousand pounds we spent on that holiday with Thomas Cook.
Yesterday I got a response from Thomas Cook, which shocked me to the core…
They claim to have looked into our flight delay and assess that the cause of the delay was due to a “bird strike to your intended aircraft, meaning we had to put you on a delayed plane”.
That was absolutely nothing like the reason for the delay to our plane. We FLEW on our “intended aircraft”. We were SITTING INSIDE our “intended aircraft” for the FULL duration of our delay. We were not given a second plane and a stone chip is NOT a bird strike. We watched them fix the fault, whilst sitting on the plane. It was NOT a bird strike. NOTHING LIKE a bird strike. How could they get it SO wrong?
I was LIVID at this blatant lie of a response so I replied, stating that they had made a mistake and that was not the cause of our delay. I stated the cause of our delay. In fact, if I dig deep on my hard drive, I will find previous correspondence from Thomas Cook, from my initial complaint, which PROVES the delay was a stone chip and not a bird strike. Good job I’m a hoarder and I keep EVERYTHING. I even still have my invoices from that holiday and even our boarding cards!
Yet today, Thomas Cook have decided to respond to me, informing me that they stand by their decision… a decision they made based on false information. Thomas Cook… is this a genuine error or did you fabricate this information to get out of paying the compensation? Tell me because I would love to know. It was the worse travelling experience of my life. I watched my little girl suffer and now you are trying to cover it up?
Our aircraft was not hit by birds, it was a chip on the engine, which should have been spotted and fixed before boarding. A fault which your own pilot admit was a “normal” technical fault. Nothing extraordinary.
Therefore I am entitled to the compensation I have requested. I still feel, personally, that we should also have been compensated with some kind of gesture of goodwill by way of apology for the awful way in which we were treated whilst on board but grounded.
And for those reasons I am boycotting Thomas Cook and Thomas Cook Airlines until they have acknowledged and rectified all of this.
I urge anyone who reads this to please share this post on social media – Tweet it to Thomas Cook, Post it on Thomas Cook’s Facebook page.
Next week will be our 4 year wedding anniversary and the memories of that hellish flight full of crying children, parents and vulnerable adults, still haunt us.