A Virgin Atlantic flight from London Gatwick bound for St. Lucia diverted to the Azores after a passenger became belligerent, shouting and spitting at cabin crew, and threatening to open the aircraft door midair.
This is just conjecture, but it seems it took some time for the passenger to liquor up because the disturbance did not take place until three hours into the flight. Or perhaps Virgin Atlantic’s meal service or seat pitch did not agree with him? Perhaps he was turned away from the onboard bar because he wasn’t Flying in Upper Class?
Whatever the cause, the man suddenly became very loud and obnoxious. Cursing is one thing, but spitting and threatening others is another. The crew decided the passenger posed too much of a security risk and diverted to Lajes Airport on the island of Terceira in the Portuguese Azores. Fellow passengers restrained the troublesome passenger.
Passengers were told to remain onboard upon landing, but as the delay grew, passengers were asked to disembark. The flight resumed four hours later.
Virgin Apologizes to Customers
In a printed letter to customers, Virgin Atlantic stated–
I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the disruption you’ve experienced during your flight with us today.
As you know, a customer travelling with us began behaving in an aggressive and disrusptive manner. Our crew are trained to handle and diffuse such situations and made every possible effort to manage this. Safety is always our absolute priority, and as the continued behaviour of this individual posed a potential safety risk to himself and others, we had not choice but to diver and remove the disruptive passenger.
The airport at Lajes was the nearest safe diversion point, and we intended and made every effort to continue to St. Lucia & Tobago. We were advised prior to our arrival that all customers would be allowed to remain on board. On landing we were then instructed to disembark all customers, which caused the time on the ground to significantly increase.
I realise that this whole experience was unexpected and unwelcome; along with my apologies I would like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks for your patience and understanding. I would also like to assure you that this type of situation is incredibly rare, and we do all we can to prevent such situations from occurring.
If you’d like details of our flight disruption policy, this is available at http://virg.in/fltdis.
In addition, if you would like to provide feedback please contact us at email@example.com
One again I would like to say how sorry we are for the experience you have encountered today, both in regards to the unacceptable behaviour displayed and the disruption to your flight.
Customer Relations Duty Manager
So No Compensation?
I encountered a similar incident on a United flight in 2010. There, we diverted to Omaha, Nebraska for a couple hours. I wrote–
An apology letter was handed out to each passenger as we deplaned at IAD, with instructions to go to united.com/appreciation for compensation. Nice to get a $350 voucher for something that wasn’t UA’s fault.
Indeed, a $350 voucher was nice considering my incident was beyond United’s control.
Based on the letter above, it seems that Virgin will not automatically compensate the passengers who were delayed and the nature of the delay likely exempts Virgin Atlantic from paying up under EU Rule 261.
My opinion on whether compensation is warranted or not depends upon whether this passengers became intoxicated based upon alcohol served onboard. Even if he did, I would not necessarily lay the blame on Virgin. But if he was served “one too many” just to pacify him, then Virgin shares some of the blame for the delay. I hope passengers seated around him will chime in as to how much alcohol he was served onboard.