Virgin Atlantic tells passengers left stranded in St Lucia to ‘find your own hotels’

Wide open spaces: Ian Field on his outbound flight from London Heathrow to St Lucia (Ian Field)
Wide open spaces: Ian Field on his outbound flight from London Heathrow to St Lucia (Ian Field)

A passenger who Virgin Atlantic left stranded in St Lucia has had to stump up over £400 to pay for his hotel while waiting to be flown home.

Ian Field and his partner Jane flew out from Heathrow as planned on flight VS221 on 5 May.

They found there were fewer than 100 passengers on board. Virgin Atlantic stops flying the route after Sunday 19 May; it is normal that passenger loads will reduce towards the end of seasonal flying.

While they were on holiday, they were told at a day’s notice that their flight home, for 15 May, had been cancelled. Virgin Atlantic says it was for “operational reasons”.

“I’m guessing it’s because the daily return flights are also pretty much empty,” Mr Field said.

They were rebooked on Virgin Atlantic flight VS222 on 17 May – although UK air passengers’ rights rules require cancelling carriers to find seats on any airline that is operating on the same day, if the traveller chooses.

Air travel rules also insist that the airline must find a hotel for passengers who are stranded overnight. But Mr Field was told to find his own accommodation.

The couple had booked a proper package holiday with Blue Bay Travel – yet the company told them: “The following procedure will be to pay for the two nights locally at the hotel, keep all receipts and then claim reimbursement.”

They were advised that if they did not have the money or enough headroom on credit cards, they should contact a family member for financial help.

“Absolutely appalling response all round,” Mr Field told The Independent. “We feel completely abandoned and let down terribly. No response from Virgin, and the attitude of the travel agent is hopeless.”

He characterised the response as: “Your problem, not ours – just sort it out yourself and claim back your costs from Virgin. And if you don’t have any funds available to pay for the extra two nights, then ask your family to bail you out.

“Luckily, we’re in a position to pay the extra $520 [£410] to the hotel. But what about those who can’t pay?”

A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said: “All customers were booked on to alternative services and can amend their flights using the ‘rebook me’ function if preferred.

“We’d like to apologise to our customers for the delay in completing their journey and any inconvenience caused. Customers will be entitled to EC261 compensation [of £520 per person] and will be fully reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred.”

The Independent understands that the airline’s practice is to provide accommodation when last-minute cancellations are made and passengers are already at the airport, but to ask travellers to make their own arrangements when more notice is given.

Claims from stranded passengers for accommodation, meals and any essential medication will be met by Virgin Atlantic.