Mystery deepens as passengers challenge Stanley Johnson claims over flight diversion to Heathrow

Mystery deepens as passengers challenge Stanley Johnson claims over flight diversion to Heathrow

Passengers who were on the British Airways flight from Malaga diverted to Heathrow airport last Friday have challenged Stanley Johnson’s version of events.

They were aboard BA2641 from Malaga on Friday 28 June. The Airbus A321 was intended to fly to Gatwick. But as the plane approached the Sussex airport, the runway was closed due to a separate British Airways flight rejecting take off.

During the 50-minute closure at the Sussex airport, 16 flights were diverted – including the flight from Malaga, which landed at Heathrow.

The pilots intended to refuel and fly on to Gatwick as soon as possible.

Writing for The Independent, Mr Johnson said that as the aircraft landed the captain invited “any passengers without luggage in the hold to disembark at Heathrow if they wanted to”.

He went on: “That sounded like a very good idea to me.

“I grabbed my bags from the rack and went to the forward entrance of the plane. Two other passengers joined me and the three of us stepped out of the door onto the top of the metal stairs which were already in place.”

But other passengers have disputed the account given by Mr Johnson – in particular the point at which the captain said anyone who wished to could disembark.

One of them, named Annemarie, told The Independent: “I can categorically confirm the pilot did not announce that passengers with hand luggage could get off upon landing at LHR [Heathrow].

“It was later, after a few passengers insisted on getting off, that that announcement was made.”

Her account was backed up by another passenger, Richard Davenport. He told The Independent: “On arrival at Heathrow we were told the plane would park up and next steps to be confirmed.

“The pilot then announced when parked the plane would be refuelled and a slot requested for Gatwick.

“Later, the pilot confirmed a slot had been provided for 20 minutes’ time and fuel had arrived.

“At this point Mr Johnson took his bag and with a female passenger in tow walked to the front of the plane and demanded to get off.”

Mr Davenport said that after a further 15 or 20 minutes, “the pilot made an announcement that he could not prevent passengers departing if they refused to fly”.

Other passengers decided they would leave. By this time airport police had been summoned.

Then, said Mr Davenport: “The pilot informed we had missed the slot and now there were issues due to passengers who wanted to deplane and had baggage in the hold.

“Half an hour later, the pilot said that due to safety regulations all baggage must be removed and at this point BA decided to cancel the flight.

“All the passengers deplaned and 95 per cent of us had to collect our bags and catch a coach back to Gatwick.”

The aircraft, which was based in Gatwick, subsequently made the 19-minute flight with only the crew on board, but the planned next sector to Cyprus and the corresponding return flight were cancelled.

Mr Davenport concluded: “It was Johnson’s action that caused the pilot to divert from his plan to refuel and fly to Gatwick, and the subsequent delay in sorting that out caused the cancellation of the flight.”

Mystery surrounds the female passenger who joined Mr Johnson in seeking to leave the flight at Heathrow.

He described her as “verging on the hysterical”, and reported her saying: “I absolutely can’t go back into the plane.

“I’ve just lost my husband in an air accident. It was all I could do this morning to bring myself to get on board the plane in Malaga. I simply can’t imagine going back in it now, for another take-off and another landing. No, I’m not going to. I’m absolutely not going to.”

Mr Davenport questioned this account, saying: “She had enjoyed the flight from Malaga to London without issues so I am not sure where the sudden fear of flight came from.

“However I accept I did not speak with her – just sat opposite for three hours of flight where she happily watched a film on her phone.”

The circumstances in which the passenger sadly lost her husband are also unclear.

British Airways could face compensation claims of over £200,000 if it is judged to be responsible for the flight ending at Heathrow, not Gatwick, and for the cancellation of the Cyprus flights.

Under air passengers’ rights rules, if an airline is responsible for a delay of three hours or more in arrival or cancelling a flight, compensation is payable – for trips of those lengths, amounting to £350 per passenger.

Assuming an average payload of 200 passengers, if everyone aboard the three affected flights successfully claimed the bill for BA would be £210,000.

The Independent has reiterated its request for a response from British Airways. All the airline has said so far on the incident is: “Due to earlier disruption at Gatwick, the flight diverted to Heathrow where it terminated.”

Mr Johnson has been contacted for comment.