On 9 December Air France flight AF499 was due to fly non-stop from the Caribbean airport on St Martin to Paris. Instead of going direct, the Airbus A330 flew 160 miles southeast to Pointe-a-Pitre airport on the island of Guadeloupe.
The reason given: the need to refuel the 22-year-old jet because of unfavourable headwinds on the transatlantic crossing.
One passenger, Laura from the north of England, picks up the story: “We landed at Guadeloupe around 6pm and were told it would take an hour to refuel – so we would arrive into Paris around 90 minutes later [than scheduled].
“After a period of time we were informed that there was an issue with the electronics and an engineer was working on it.
“We were left on the aircraft on the tarmac for five hours. We received food and a soft drink only at 10pm.
“The captain informed us that the problem couldn’t be fixed and we would be sorted with hotel accommodation overnight.
“At around 11pm they disembarked the business-class passengers and held everyone else back. They were sent to hotels. The rest of us arrived in the airport terminal to find camp beds and bottles of water.”
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, Air France was required to provide hotels for travellers in the event of an overnight delay.
While the airline insists there were insufficient rooms on the island for all the stranded travellers, some passengers say hotels had space – which a number of people booked at their own expense.
“I personally didn’t,” said Laura. “As a lone female traveller with no knowledge of the island I didn’t want to risk putting myself into a situation which may have been unsafe.”
A handful of staff were around in the terminal, but soon left the passengers to fend for themselves overnight.
“There were elderly people and people with children, all left with no food, no information and camp beds,” said Laura.
The following morning, the in-flight breakfast provisions were taken off the aircraft and given to the passengers.
The flight eventually left around 24 hours late, with all connections at Paris Charles de Gaulle having been missed.
A spokesperson for Air France said: “At the time of the incident, Pointe-a-Pitre airport staff were faced with an unexpected number of passengers needing assistance due to the cancellation of the Air France flight.
“To manage the situation, they did their utmost to find accommodation for all the passengers on board. Once hotel accommodation was arranged for those who required assistance and vulnerable passengers, the rest of the limited allocation of rooms went to some business-class passengers.”
In response, Laura told The Independent: “I spent the night talking with a couple in their eighties – one of whom I had to help walk off the plane and buy them a hot chocolate the next morning as they needed looking after. They should have been given accommodation.”
If passengers are not provided with hotels, they do not have the right to claim for the failure – unless they found and paid for accommodation, in which case they can claim back the cost.
Laura concluded: “Hopefully Air France will put contingencies into place to ensure this does not happen again.”
She has applied to the airline for compensation for the delay – which should total €600 (£514) – but has not yet had a response from Air France.